Who are the biggest casualties from Nigeria's Afcon Squad?
I would like to use this opportunity to pay tribute to players excluded from the squad recently released by the NFF to prosecute Nigeria's Afcon campaign in Cameroon next January.
I remain grateful to their contributions and hope to see (some) of them kit up for future Super Eagles assignments.
These players are:
1)Ikechukwu Ezenwa (19 caps): A large bevy of Super Eagles fans were never sold on his application between the sticks for Nigeria. He was seen as porous and positionally defective with questionable catching skills.
Forever playing second fiddle to Akpeyi and Uzoho, the emergence of Okoye and his lackadaisical form in the NPFL put paid to his Super Eagles slot.
The coaching crew would have been stoned if Ezenwa made the Afcon list and his Super Eagles career looks all but over.
2)Tyrone Ebuehi (10 caps): Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise for Ebuehi to miss this tournament as it will afford him the opportunity to entrench himself in his club as they battle Serie A survival.
It is now two Afcon tournaments in a row that the exciting fullback will miss. The emergence of Sanusi and the versatility of Awaziem put intolerable pressure on Ebuehi’s Super Eagles position.
The 26 year old, who actually played 1 Afcon qualifier against Lesotho in March, still has a huge future with the Super Eagles if he stays fit and active in club football.
A number of fans are left gutted by his exclusion from this Afcon.
3)Semi Ajayi (15 caps): another player who will be missing two afcons in a row. Having missed the last tournament, Gernot Rohr gave Ajayi ample opportunity to stake a claim in the Super Eagles but Ajayi failed to impress.
For a tall guy, he was suspect in the air and he can be slow to react.
Ajayi featured in 4 out of the 6 Afcon qualifiers but was seen as weak link in defence. His place in the team came under strain following the inclusion of Ozornwafor and Akpoguma.
It remains to be seen whether he will attract future Super Eagles invitations.
4)Samuel Kalu (17 caps) : injuries and illnesses have blighted the career of Kalu in the past 2 seasons. An astute winger, the emergence of Ejuke further compounded his national team woes.
Kalu still has a future with the Super Eagles if he regains his match fitness and stays healthy for a prolonged period.His exclusion from this Afcon squad is unsurprising owing to his recent health issues.
5)Cyriel Dessers (1 cap): despite having never played 90 minutes for the Super Eagles – something he also struggles with in club football – Dessers remains a fan favourite.
Many Super Eagles fans have built a picture in their minds of how deadly Dessers can be for Nigeria.
With so many strikers available to Nigeria at this, it was always going to be tricky for the coaches to squeeze Dessers in. Many will argue that he deserves to be in the team ahead of Ighalo and Ahmed Musa but Ighalo is a proven goals scorer in international football and Musa is a legend.
Although overlooked this time around, Dessers still very much has a future with Nigeria.
6)Henry Onyekuru (15 caps) : I see Onyekuru as an unserious footballer. He is immensely talented and definitely deserves to be in the Afcon squad. But his questionable work ethics, low work rate and self-inflicted constant unsettled club status have conspired to lead to his exclusion.
Onyekuru is a far more technical dribbler than Ejuke. He is positionally competent and can unlock defences with his purposeful runs and defence splitting passes.
It’s a shame to see such a huge talent go to waste. I for one will miss him at the Afcon.
Paul Onuachu: out injured but won’t be missed by many as he isn’t entirely a fan favourite.
Kevin Akpoguma: the sacking of Rohr probably cost him his place. Akpoguma still has a future with the Super Eagles.
Anayo Iwuala: leaving the NPFL for a North African team dimmed his immediate Super Eagles chances. Stellar performances for his club might yet see him attract future invitations.
Brian Idowu: he has been overlooked since 2019. His Super Eagles days seem well and truly behind him. I miss him in Super Eagles colours.