Sunday, February 11, 2018

COUNTDOWN: Players Seeking Russia (February)

Each month, I offer my view of the 23 players that Nigeria is likely to select for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. As you can imagine, this is likely to change from month to month based on player form, injuries, and other considerations. 

This piece is the first of the Countdown to Russia. Player chances will be categorized as Highly Probable++ (80-100% likelihood), Possible+ (50-79%), Questionable?  (40-59%) and Doubtful?? (39% or less). Comments will follow each category.

Highly Probable++
Victor Moses
Mikel Obi
Kelechi Iheanacho
Shehu Abdullahi
William Ekong
Wilfred Ndidi

Presently, the above six players are highly probable of being at the World Cup in Russia. You may wonder why Kelechi Iheanacho is highly probable when several current starters are not in this category. However, this listing is about selecting the 23 squad players and not just the first 11 players. In spite of opportunities to invite new players to the squad, Iheanacho is a solid shoo-in because no other Nigerian striker has been remotely close to being clinical in front of goal . That includes the current starter Odion Ighalo. Thus, while I view Ighalo as replaceable, I currently do not see Iheanacho as easily replaceable in the squad. Iheanacho is a goal poacher for whom there is no Nigerian substitute.

Alex Iwobi
Moses Simon
Leon Balogun
Odion Ighalo
Onazi Ogenyi

All five players, listed above, will possibly make it to Russia but they must all work hard or else they can become surprise cuts on decision day in June. Balogun is a surprise inclusion here given that he is the heart of Nigeria's defense at this time. However, I have put him in this second tier given his history of injuries which may yet decide whether he gets to Russia or not. The rest may be considered starters now but any major entrance of a big star in the coming months may question their ability to make the 23-man squad.

Tyronne Ebuehi
Brian Idowu
Ola Aina
Chiedozie Awaziem
Francis Uzoho
Ikechukwu Ezenwa
Oghenekaro Etebo

All these guys are on the bubble at this time. If they make it, it will be close. While the two goalkeepers here may end up being in the squad, not one of them is a sure thing for Russia. Etebo's star has dimmed since the World Cup qualifiers began, Awaziem has a slight edge over Omeruo, Aina and Idowu are fighting for a starting position but yet not assured of making the final 23. The same applies to Tyrone Ebuehi who may be challenged by a new call up in the coming weeks and months.

Elderson Echiejile
Ahmed Musa
Mikel Agu
Kenneth Omeruo
Dele Ajiboye
Daniel Akpeyi
John Ogu
Kayode Olanrewaju
Uche Agbo
Chidiebere Nwakali
Henry Onyekuru
Anthony Nwakaeme
Alhassan Ibrahim

A player listed here is currently facing a cut from the World Cup squad. More than likely, a great number of players from this group will not get to Russia in the summer. For each of them, the upcoming friendly internationals serve as last life lines to the World Cup. Do well, you may yet make the squad, an average or weak play is a definite assurance of staying home.