Chief Football Writer Fisayo Dairo is also our resident NPFL expert. He is best placed to run the rule over Nigeria’s CHAN Squad
Home-based Super Eagles coach Salisu Yusuf on Tuesday named his 23-man squad for the African Nations Championships starting next week in Morocco making some key decisions in his final selection.
After about two weeks of preparation at the Nation’s capital Abuja, Yusuf made virtually the biggest decision of his coaching career yet, having to select twenty three players out of the over thirty professionals in camp.
To start with, it is expedient to highlight some of the popular names who failed to make Salisu’s final squad. Names such as goalkeeper Suraj Ayeleso, defenders Emmanuel Ariwachukwu and Nasiru Sani, midfielders Raphael Ayagwa, Douglas Achiv and Abdulkadir Zango and attackers Sikiru Olatunbosun, Victor Mbaoma, Tosin Omoyele and Kingsley Eduwo were left out of the final squad.
Experience preferred between the sticks
If there were any positions already settled even before the camping exercise, it was the first and second choice goalkeeping roles. Ikechukwu Ezenwa is the team captain and has been in goal for the main Super Eagles team in recent games so will definitely be in goal in Morocco barring injuries.
Dele Ajiboye, a contemporary of Manchester United’s David De Gea at the 2007 Under-17 World Championships saw his stock rise when he led unfancied Plateau United to the Nigerian league title last season and also spent some time training with Gernot Rohr’s Eagles so is a worthy deputy for Ezenwa.
Where the key decision lay was on whether or not to stick to the jittery Theophilus Afelokhai as third choice or replace him with the in-demand Suraj Ayeleso. Nasarawa United’s Ayeleso won the Golden Glove Award (if there is anything like that) in last season’s Nigeria Professional Football League and was invited for the Abuja camping exercise after Afelokhai once again showed traits of his eccentricity during the Pre-Season Tournament in Kano.
Afelokhai however got the nod for whatever reasons by the coaching crew. It was hinted in some quarters though that it may be unconnected to the fact that Afelokhai is the best at saving spot kicks among the quartet.
Ariwachukwu, Zikiye snub still a mystery in defence
The defensive department of the team lost two vital components vice captain Chima Akas and centre back Adeleye Aniyikaye to injury in Kano.
Akas has been the team’s de facto left back since 2015 and his injury in the final game against MFM was indeed a devastating blow to the team. One of his supposed replacements, Nasiru Sani once again proved grossly substandard in Kano and was subsequently dropped after the tournament. It was then baffling that only one replacement was called up for the duo: Enyimba’s Ikouwem Udoh.
Udoh featured for his club Enyimba at the Invitational tournament but it was indeed MFM’s Jonathan Zikiye who was the outstanding left back in Kano, capping his participation with a goal in the final against the CHAN Eagles.
With the choice of Udoh and Plateau’s Daniel Itodo – the long throw merchant – Salisu has chosen two players who have never played outside Nigeria in the past. A big question for experience.
Furthermore, the insistence on using Osas Okoro, an orthodox winger as a right back is also a head-scratching decision as the Rangers star has shown time and time again his inadequacies in the defensive duties.
From the WAFU Cup to the Kano tournament, Okoro’s performances have led to fans and pundits calling for him to be moved up while another player with more defensive stability plays behind him. Such call has fallen to deaf ears and the team must swim or sink with it.
In centre back, the name of Ariwachukwu Emmanuel was a shock omission before the Kano tournament and even after Aniyikaye’s injury, it remained startling that such error was not corrected.
That begged the question of the yardstick used to invite players as the coaching crew brought on Abdullahi Musa (who had a decent 2015/16 under Abdu Maikaba) from Wikki Tourists to join the inexperienced Timothy Danladi and the favoured duo of Orji Kalu Okogbue and Stephen Eze.
While the choice of goalkeepers seemed inevitable, the seeming negligence in the defensive selection stands to be a major source of concern for the team in Morocco.
I shall address the midfield and attack in the second part a little later.
Do you also believe some decisions were not right? Let us have your thoughts in the comments section