CHAN EAGLES: Hoping to go one better
When Nigeria’s Super Eagles step to the crumpled surface of the Stade de l’Amitiė in Cotonou on Saturday, August 11, just one thing will be on the minds of the selected lot – making the most of a chance to appear in an international tournament.
This team of locally based professionals (as the competition rule specifies) will attempt to qualify Nigeria for a third successive African Nations Championships at the expense of Benin Republic with the Eagles having failed to make it to the first two editions of the much maligned tournament.
The importance of the tournament cannot be overemphasized for players in the domestic league as it gives a rare sense of belonging to their fatherland while hoping against hope that excelling individuals could gatecrash into the main team for next year’s World Cup – should Nigeria qualify of course – afterall, four of those that participated in Nigeria’s maiden CHAN appearance in 2014 went to Brazil that summer.
After a disastrous campaign at Rwanda 2016 which culminated in the shock resignation of the then head coach Sunday Oliseh, his assistant, Salisu Yusuf has somehow by fate or serendipity upgraded to the role of head coach and that has its ironic benefit – continuity – an uncommon disposition in Nigeria.
While Oliseh was away on medical grounds ahead of the 2016 tournament, Yusuf it was that prepared the team and ultimately selected the squad that would go ahead to disgrace Nigeria, their record of one win, one draw and one loss falling short of qualification to the next round, perhaps, it is an experience Yusuf would have learnt from.
Team captain in 2016 was Chima Akas and the Enyimba left-back is one of eight players from that team called up by Yusuf for a training camp in Kano ahead of the double-header against the Squirrels of Benin.
“I believe experience is the best teacher, so we have learnt from the past. We have been preparing and (we) remain focused (and) with determination not to let what happened at the last CHAN reoccur again,” Akas, recently named as vice for new captain Ikechukwu Ezenwa told aclsports.com
Also in the squad is Osas Okoro, one of the very few shinning lights in that 2016 failure as well as ageless Rabiu Ali, the only survivor from the 2014 tournament who will be hoping to add a third CHAN participation to his accolade of honours. Besides captains Ezenwa and Akas, the defensive trio of Orji Kalu, Jamiu Alimi and goalkeeper Okiemute Odah will all hope to make the final 23 for the Benin clash when the “saints are called in” on August 4.
Typically, there was some hue and cry over the 30 invited players for the upcoming qualifiers. But after the dust is settled, it must be said that the selectors did a thorough job in selecting players that have featured on a fairly regular basis for their clubs and arguments over better options are subjective, really.
Akas quite fittingly gave his opinion on the selection:
NPFL is a league full of talented players so there is always competition because everybody can’t play. All we really want to have is qualification to the main tournament and doing the best we can to go far better than in 2016,” he said.
After all is said and done, considering the balance of the squad, there seems to be an oversight in the right side of defence. A breakdown of the 30 invited players into their playing positions show that Rangers’ Okoro is the only right back called up for the team, a gross imbalance seeing that the winger was only converted to the right back spot at his club this term.
It can be suggested that Okoro’s club mate, Orji Kalu can act as a deputy if the need arises but the fact that Kalu has not played at right back for over two years makes one wonder why a natural right back could not be harnessed from the 19 league teams. Rivers United’s Ifeanyi Nweke and MFM’s Stanley Okorom are just two of a sparkling lot.
NOW OR NEVER
Critics of the Nigeria Professional Football League and its players always seek every opportunity to condemn it. Daggers and Swords will be readied by such critics for the African Nation Championships and anything short of qualification for the main tournament in Kenya next year and subsequent success at the main tournament will attract more negativity to the league and more importantly, the players.
The 2018 tournament also provides league legends, Rabiu Ali and Mfon Udoh with a final chance to make a big impression at the global stage. Ali had a few sparks at the 2014 tournament where he scored in Nigeria’s remarkable comeback in the quarter-final against Morocco but overall had nothing definitively spectacular. At 37, this should definitely be his swansong and should be hoping to sign off on a high.
For Udoh, the league’s record topscorer after a 23-goal return in 2014, many are lost as to how such a talented goalscorer has failed to make any impact in any of the national teams to date. Having scored 12 goals in the league this term, his invitation leaves no one in doubt but as premature as it may sound, 2018 CHAN might well be Mfon Udoh’s last big chance to make a mark in green and white colours.
For the records:
THE FULL LIST (According to their positions)
- Ikechukwu Ezenwa (FC IfeanyiUbah); Theophilus Afelokhai (Enyimba FC), Okiemute Odah (Lobi Stars), Dele Ajiboye (Plateau United)
- Right back: Osas Okoro (Rangers International)
- Left backs: Chima Akas (Enyimba FC); Nasiru Sani (Katsina United)
- Centre backs: Jamiu Alimi (Kano Pillars); Orji Kalu (Rangers International); Stephen Eze (FC IfeanyiUbah); Ariwachukwu Emmanuel (Akwa United); Elisha Golbe (Plateau United); Chinedu Ajanah (ABS FC)
- Defensive Midfielders: Afeez Aremu (Akwa United); Emeka Atuloma (Rivers United); Raphael Ayagwa (Lobi Stars);
- Central Midfielders: Ifeanyi Ifeanyi (Akwa United); Rabiu Ali (Kano Pillars), Chiamaka Madu (Rangers International)
- Attacking Midfielders: Samuel Mathias (El-Kanemi Warriors), Alhassan Ibrahim (Akwa United)
- Right-footed wingers: Mfon Udoh (Enyimba FC); Prince Aggreh (FC IfeanyiUbah); Thomas Zenke (Nasarawa United);
- Left-footed wingers: Sikiru Olatubosun (MFM FC), Austin Oladapo (Gombe United)
- Support Strikers: Ifeanyi George (Rangers International), Kingsley Eduwo (Lobi Stars).
- Main strikers: Sunday Adetunji (Abia Warriors) Stephen Odey (MFM FC).