A look at Oboabona and his Nigerian League mates at AFCON By @iamlanreban

NigeriaÔÇÖs coach Stephen Keshi did what would have┬ábeen considered unthinkable when he named six┬áhome based players to represent the country at the┬á2013 Nations Cup in South Africa.

Not that this should have made news since countries like Egypt and Zambia have in recent times, successfully campaigned victoriously at the Nations Cup with teams made up of over ninety percent home based players.

For the cynics who doubted KeshiÔÇÖs promise to give┬áNigeria an alternative team and rescue it from the┬áwhims of foreign based players who in time past┬áhave failed to wedge the needed commitment┬áneeded to qualifier then campaign at the Nations┬áCup, the proof of six stars from the Nigeria Premier┬áLeague must have hit them smack in the face.

For such persons, an ÔÇ£alternativeÔÇØ team must┬ácomprise those who play in the back water leagues globally. The more conservative went for those who┬áplay in lower divisions in Europe.

Chigozie Agbim, Azubuike Egwueke, Godfrey Oboabona(In pic), Ejike Uzoenyi, Gabriel Reuben and Sunday Mba have been in the home based Eagles set up, since the team was birthed two Christmas ago by Stephen Keshi.

Whether or not they are the best in the league remains debatable and debates will rage further concerning the sentiment that may have gone into the final selection. Ejike Uzoenyi looks overweight, Gabriel Reuben is not 100% fit. For a coach that has repeatedly said the team is like a family, would it have been extremely difficult for him to drop some players?

With six chosen for the AFCON challenge, the cynics moved their argument from the now stale tag of training materials to bench warmers. Tactical boards have been drawn in bars, formations penned floors, and the permutations have gone endlessly. The cynics now say none of the home based lads is going to start any game at the Nations Cup.

ÔÇ£They are not good enoughÔÇØ, ÔÇ£they lack the big┬ágame mentalityÔÇØ, ÔÇØ they can easily be intimidated┬áby other bigger opponents from other countriesÔÇØ, ÔÇØthey will be too timid to play their gameÔÇØ. So the┬ácynics say.

In the solitude of my room, where no argument but only thought ferments, I asked myself, which of the home based players will impress at the Nations Cup? But no sooner had I put wheels into thought than a bigger perspective swelled in my head. To impress you have to play, so who amongst them has the brightest chances of playing, then impressing?

Chigozie Agbim

Position: Goalkeeper
Competitive matches played: 4
Competition: Vincent Enyeama, Austin Ejide
Chances: very slim.

The goalkeeping position┬áalways picks itself out in most teams. This position┬áhardly tolerates dispute and Agbim is third choice.┬áWith Ejide recuperating from that muscle strain,┬áAgbimÔÇÖs chances moved from non-existent to very┬áslim.

Azubuike Egwueke

Position: Centre back
Matches played: 7
Competition: Joseph Yobo, Efe Ambrose, Godfrey
Oboabona, Keneth Omeruo
Chances: Good.

On a broader scale of grading┬ácentre backs, Egwueke comes up against other┬áCBÔÇÖs in the team. However, if that is pruned to role┬áspecification, then he has to contend against Efe┬áAmbrose and Joseph Yobo. These are the other┬áplayer s who play the number 6 position or the last┬áman. Egwueke is not helped by the fact that he is┬ánot versatile. Amongst the lot, he is the only one┬áthat canÔÇÖt fit into two roles. Well, he has not being┬átried so it is difficult to say. The other four can play┬áeither as centre backs or right backs, increasing
their chances of playing.

Gabriel Reuben

Position: Central Midfielder
Matches played: 9, 1 goal
Competition: Mikel Obi, Ogeyi Onazi, Obiora
Nwankwo, Fengor Ogude
Chances: Unknown.

There are many questions┬ásurrounding the Kano Pillars man and his inclusion┬áin the team. Eyebrows would not have been raised┬áif he was fit, but the cloud around his fitness and┬áhis subsequent inclusion has tongues wagging. I┬ádonÔÇÖt think he is fit, despite playing against Spatar┬áRotterdam in a training match. If he were fully fit┬áand with the Eagles playing a double pivot, I would┬áhave favoured him to play alongside Mikel Obi.

Ejike Uzoenyi

Position: Wing Forward
Matches played: 7
Competition: Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses
Chances: Very Good.

Overweight, but do you blame him? He has been out of competitive football since October when the league ended and his performances in the team have dwindled largely. Difficult to predict how Stephen Keshi would line out his team, but a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 are his preferred options. Whichever ways, Ejike will play on the left or right wing where competition is thin. He will most likely come from the bench each time he will play. But he will.

Sunday Mba

Position: striker
Matches played; 4, 3 goals
Competition: Emmanuel Emenike, Ike Uche,
Brown Ideye
Chances: Unknown.

Little has been seen of this┬áman in most of the matches for the Super Eagles,┬ábut those who have seen him play for his club┬áWarri wolves wonder why he is still in the local┬áleague. He is too good to still be home based they┬ásay. He must have impressed the coaches a lot┬áduring the training camp in Faro to have been┬áshortlisted in the end. Whether he will play or not┬áremains to be seen, but you donÔÇÖt get picked ahead┬áof a certain Bright Dike, ÔÇÿÔÇÖUS basedÔÇØ and donÔÇÖt get┬áplayed. Moreover, every coach needs a┬áchampionship joker.

Godfrey Oboabona

Position: defender

Matches played: 6
Competition: Kenneth Omeruo, Joseph Yobo,
Azubuike Egwueke, Efe Ambrose
Chances: very strong.

OboabonaÔÇÖs football career actually came to the┬áfore in his last year in secondary school some six┬áyears ago.┬áWhile in his final year he played for OSFODEC┬á(Ondo State Football Development Committee), an┬áacademy of some sorts based in Akure.

While playing for OSFODEC in a state FA Cup game┬áagainst Sunshine Stars, he did so well that he was┬ásigned on by Sunshine Stars as he finished from┬áSecondary School.┬áThe chances of Godfrey Oboabona starting games┬áfor the Eagles at the Nations Cup are the brightest┬áamongst the home based players. Whether or not┬áhe will impress is as unknown as the content of a┬ágift pack.┬áThe Sunshine Stars captain went as far as the┬ásemi-finals of the CAF championsÔÇÖ league with his┬áteam before they lost out to eventual winners Ahly.┬áWhat he has going for him is his versatility; he can┬áslot in at the right or fill in at the centre back.

However, Coach Keshi has shown confidence to play him at the heart of the defence, pairing him with several other centre backs. His strong points are his fearlessness and ruggedness, traits that could very well serve him at the Nations Cup. He also has a good leap for a man his size and though not a very big fellow, he has excellent balance and can play the ball out quite
considerably from the back. In the Nations Cup qualifier against Rwanda in June last year, he comfortably received the ball from goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and was able to build up play severally. This was clearly an instruction from the bench which he did quite well, because in subsequent matches he did not receive the ball from the back as the goalkeeper hit it long while he too forked out high long balls when he intercepted the ball.

However, most of his strong points are also his weaknesses. His has been described as a penalty waiting to happen because of his playing style-aggression and ruggednes-while his tendency to commit rash tackles and untimely application of force around the danger area means free kicks and penalties are often handed out like candies.

The mistake Stephen Keshi will make would be to play him on the right side of defence, a position thankfully he has not been experimented in, in the Super Eagles. Anyone who wants proof of his ability in that position should watch the second leg of the semi-final game between Sunshine Stars and al Ahly. He was simply atrocious. Whatever coach Gbenga Ogunbote was thinking cracked like egg shells in the first half.

His positioning is the worst of all the players in the team at the moment, and for a defender, it could be mightily costly. In the friendly game against Venezuela, Oboabona was all over the place constantly running at cross-purposes with Egwueke, ruining the shape of the defence on several occasions and forcing the left-back Echiejile to always come inside, offering yards of space on that side. I would trace this deficiency to his domestic upbringing and lack of proper schooling in the game. Not set in the dictum of positioning as a footballer early on in his career, it will take only a good and patient coach with the desire to tutor, to set him straight.

His judgment and decision making I also donÔÇÖt┬átrust, having seen him many at times hesitate
precariously before deciding.┬áAfter the game against Liberia in Monrovia, captain┬áJoseph Yobo came out to say he wasnÔÇÖt comfortable┬áplaying with the home based lads in defence-a┬ástatement he later denied making-but could it be┬ádown to the decision making of Oboabona who┬ápartnered with him in the game.

Former Eagles striker Jonathan Akpoborie had also questioned the decision to play Oboabona and Egwueke in the home game against Liberia. In his opinion, they stifled the midfield of the ball with their long balls straight to the attack and they made the job of the central midfielders quite difficult be sitting too deep. I agree with him. Though it is not known what formation coach Keshi will play in the tourney as he has flirted with a loose 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formation, it is assumed he will go with a 4-4-3 during the Nations Cup.

This system is possession based and would ned a patient build-up from the back. On the big stage and with an European contract looming in his mind, will Oboabona be calm in possession? Will he refuse the urge to sit deep?