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┬ácountries like Egypt and Zambia have in recent┬átimes, successfully campaigned victoriously at the┬áNations Cup with teams made up of over ninety┬ápercent 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┬áOboabona(In pic), Ejike Uzoenyi, Gabriel Reuben┬áand Sunday Mba have been in the home based┬áEagles set up, since the team was birthed two┬áChristmas ago by Stephen Keshi.
Whether or not they are the best in the league┬áremains debatable and debates will rage further┬áconcerning the sentiment that may have gone into┬áthe final selection.┬áEjike Uzoenyi looks overweight, Gabriel Reuben is┬ánot 100% fit. For a coach that has repeatedly said┬áthe team is like a family, would it have been┬áextremely difficult for him to drop some players?
With six chosen for the AFCON challenge, the┬ácynics moved their argument from the now stale┬átag of training materials to bench warmers.┬áTactical boards have been drawn in bars,┬áformations penned floors, and the permutations┬áhave gone endlessly. The cynics now say none of┬áthe home based lads is going to start any game at┬áthe 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┬áonly thought ferments, I asked myself, which of the┬áhome based players will impress at the Nations┬áCup? But no sooner had I put wheels into thought┬áthan a bigger perspective swelled in my head. To impress you have to play, so who amongst them┬áhas the brightest chances of playing, then┬áimpressing?
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.
Position: Centre back
Matches played: 7
Competition: Joseph Yobo, Efe Ambrose, Godfrey
Oboabona, Keneth Omeruo
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.
Position: Central Midfielder
Matches played: 9, 1 goal
Competition: Mikel Obi, Ogeyi Onazi, Obiora
Nwankwo, Fengor Ogude
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.
Position: Wing Forward
Matches played: 7
Competition: Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses
Chances: Very Good.
Overweight, but do you┬áblame him? He has been out of competitive┬áfootball since October when the league ended and┬áhis performances in the team have dwindled┬álargely. Difficult to predict how Stephen Keshi┬áwould line out his team, but a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 are his┬ápreferred options. Whichever ways, Ejike will play┬áon the left or right wing where competition is thin.┬áHe will most likely come from the bench each time┬áhe will play. But he will.
Matches played; 4, 3 goals
Competition: Emmanuel Emenike, Ike Uche,
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.
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┬áplay him at the heart of the defence, pairing him┬áwith several other centre backs.┬áHis strong points are his fearlessness and┬áruggedness, traits that could very well serve him at┬áthe Nations Cup.┬áHe also has a good leap for a man his size and┬áthough not a very big fellow, he has excellent┬ábalance and can play the ball out quite
considerably from the back.┬áIn the Nations Cup qualifier against Rwanda in June┬álast year, he comfortably received the ball from┬ágoalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and was able to build┬áup play severally. This was clearly an instruction┬áfrom the bench which he did quite well, because in┬ásubsequent matches he did not receive the ball┬áfrom the back as the goalkeeper hit it long while he┬átoo forked out high long balls when he intercepted┬áthe ball.
However, most of his strong points are also his┬áweaknesses. His has been described as a penalty┬áwaiting to happen because of his playing style-aggression and ruggednes-while his tendency to┬ácommit rash tackles and untimely application of┬áforce around the danger area means free kicks and┬ápenalties are often handed out like candies.
The mistake Stephen Keshi will make would be to┬áplay him on the right side of defence, a position┬áthankfully he has not been experimented in, in the┬áSuper Eagles.┬áAnyone who wants proof of his ability in that┬áposition should watch the second leg of the semi-final game between Sunshine Stars and al Ahly. He┬áwas simply atrocious. Whatever coach Gbenga┬áOgunbote was thinking cracked like egg shells in┬áthe first half.
His positioning is the worst of all the players in the┬áteam at the moment, and for a defender, it could┬ábe mightily costly.┬áIn the friendly game against Venezuela, Oboabona┬áwas all over the place constantly running at cross-purposes with Egwueke, ruining the shape of the┬ádefence on several occasions and forcing the left-back Echiejile to always come inside, offering yards┬áof space on that side.┬áI would trace this deficiency to his domestic┬áupbringing and lack of proper schooling in the┬ágame. Not set in the dictum of positioning as a┬áfootballer early on in his career, it will take only a┬ágood and patient coach with the desire to tutor, to┬áset 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┬áquestioned the decision to play Oboabona and┬áEgwueke in the home game against Liberia. In his┬áopinion, they stifled the midfield of the ball with┬átheir long balls straight to the attack and they┬ámade the job of the central midfielders quite┬ádifficult be sitting too deep. I agree with him.┬áThough it is not known what formation coach Keshi┬áwill play in the tourney as he has flirted with a┬áloose 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formation, it is assumed he┬áwill go with a 4-4-3 during the Nations Cup.
This system is possession based and would ned a┬ápatient build-up from the back. On the big stage┬áand with an European contract looming in his┬ámind, will Oboabona be calm in possession? Will he┬árefuse the urge to sit deep?