Super Eagles head coach Augustine Eguavoen must be pleased to see his boys streaming into camp in their hordes. As at the last count, 21 of the invited players had already made their way to the Abuja camp of the team ahead of the FIFA World Cup playoff double-header against regional rivals Ghana.
Eguavoen has seen the arrival of veteran striker Odion Ighalo as well as Watford stars Oghenekaro Etebo and Emmanuel Dennis, and Victor Osimhen, all of whom were absent from AFCON for various reasons. All that is left is for the former Super Eagles defender to choose his starting XI for the games, but that in itself is a tough task.
Ighalo/Osimhen: Odion Jude Ighalo and Victor Osimhen are two strikers from different classes in the Super Eagles set-up. Osimhen was groomed to be Ighalo’s replacement as the former Watford man neared his retirement from international football. The younger striker understudied Ighalo and was on the bench for Nigeria as he claimed the Golden Boot at the 2019 AFCON. Shortly after Osimhen’s emergence, however, Ighalo was recalled by then-coach Gernot Rohr.
Rohr played both strikers together in a 4-4-2 as Nigeria took on Cape Verde in Lagos back in November 2021, and Nigerians were subjected to a painful watch as Cape Verde held the Super Eagles to a 1-1 draw. Both men were clearly hindered by playing together and the team struggled as a result.
Eguavoen must now choose which of the two in-form strikers to start against the Black Stars of Ghana. Based on their contribution to the team, Osimhen gives a lot more due to his boundless energy and running the channels. Ighalo, on the other hand, is more of a penalty box striker who will struggle to make an impact unless he receives the ball in a goalscoring position.
Dennis/Chukwueze: Another decision to be made by coach Eguavoen is to choose between Watford forward Emmanuel Dennis and Villarreal winger Samuel Chukwueze. Chukwueze had a very average tournament for the Super Eagles in Cameroon but has shown a marked improvement at club level since then. The winger, however, is not as direct as Watford’s Dennis, who has taken the Premier League by storm this season. Dennis is a certain goal threat, and playing him from the start increases the possibility of the Super Eagles breaching the Ghanaian defence.
Ekong/Omeruo: Coach Eguavoen will surely be worried that vice-captain William Troost-Ekong has not played a single minute of football since AFCON. The 28-year-old Watford man has been left out of the Watford team by manager Roy Hodgson since his appointment. Kenneth Omeruo also last featured for CD Leganes on February 11th and has missed their last four matches. Omeruo has proven to be a more reliable player for the Super Eagles in recent matches, with Ekong having looked shaky at times for the team of recent. The 55-cap Super Eagles veteran should be selected ahead of Ekong.
Augustine Eguavoen has more than 72 hours to make his final decisions ahead of the first leg of the clash in Kumasi. The Super Eagles coach will be hoping to make the right choice of personnel for the must-win clash.