The current international break offers Gernot Rohr to refine Nigeria’s first-choice options for the World Cup, and to make some assessments on some of his peripheral players.
The German tactician may have cultivated a settled squad since qualification was secured, but he still has some tricky decisions to make between now and this summer’s showpiece.
Here’s the current state of affairs for Nigeria’s squad with the World Cup less than three months away.
Gernot Rohr’s selections so far – both for the Argentina friendly and for the upcoming fixtures against Poland and Serbia – clearly suggest that he intends to stick with the majority of the squad that secured qualification.
That means that skipper John Mikel Obi leads a collection of players who are not just guaranteed tickets, but almost certain starting berths.
Victor Moses, Wilfred Ndidi, Odion Ighalo, Ogenyi Onazi, William Troost-Ekong, Oghenekaro Etebo, Leon Balogun, Shehu Abdullahi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi, Moses Simon, Ahmed Musa and goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa all fit into this category.
All but Musa are key players for Rohr and notching up game time at club level, although Ezenwa may yet face a battle for his shirt.
Musa has joined those ranks since moving back to CSKA Moscow, appearing to cement his previously shaky place.
Essentially, the core of the Super Eagles’ squad is already confirmed, barring injury.
IN THE DEPARTURES LOUNGE
If Rohr’s squad composition demonstrates his loyalty to his core squad, his invitation of the likes of Brian Idowu, Junior Ajayi and Joel Obi also show that he’s not averse to casting his eye at some fresh options in areas that need strengthening…or at least to keep a select few on their toes.
Leading the options on the outside looking in are Kenneth Omeruo, who has come almost full circle from starter to substitute to standby and then outsider and is now back in the squad.
Elderson Echiejile faces stiff competition from Ola Aina and Brian Idowu but should make the cut.
John Ogu, Anthony Nwakaeme, Uche Agbo, Mikel Agu, Chiedozie Awaziem, Tyronne Ebuehi, Dele Ajiboye and Dele Alampasu will be staking claims all the way to the finish line, although all may need to up their game in order to confirm their spots.
Ogu and Agu, in particular, appear to be in an intense battle for one spot in midfield, and it’s a tussle that Obi could complicate further if he stays fit.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
If not for his unfortunate injury, Henry Onyekuru would be higher up on this list.
As it stands, he will be in a race to get fit and play enough football to force himself back into Rohr’s thoughts, although his versatility and willingness to make a comeback stand in his favour.
Idowu has Echiejile and Aina ahead of him, while Gabriel Okechukwu surely needs to impress during the ongoing international window to muscle into Rohr’s squad.
Stephen Eze has fought his way into contention after his CHAN heroics, but his chances are extremely slim as are those of Kelechi Nwakali, Victor Osimhen, Kayode Olarenwaju and Anderson Esiti.
PREDICTED PRELIMINARY 23
Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Francis Uzoho, Daniel Akpeyi;
Leon Balogun, William Troost-Ekong, Shehu Abdullahi, Kenneth Omeruo, Uche Agbo, Elderson Echiejile, Tyronne Ebuehi, Ola Aina
Mikel Obi, Wilfred Ndidi, Ogenyi Onazi, Oghenekaro Etebo, John Ogu, Mikel Agu
Odion Ighalo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa, Moses Simon, Alex Iwobi