Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr has announced his final squad for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) with one name conspicuously missing – Kelechi Iheanacho. This would probably have been a surprise two years ago, but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then and as they say, things are no longer the same.
Also failing to make the 23-man squad is Semi Ajayi, who plays for Rotherham United in the English Championship. His failure to make the final cut would not have surprised anyone, not least, himself.
Iheanacho out! No Surprises
One could say that it’s been a long time coming and wouldn’t be far from the truth. The Leicester City forward has hardly impressed anyone over the last two years and some believed he should not have made Nigeria’s World Cup squad last year. And since then, very little or nothing has changed in the 22-year old’s form, as he struggled for game time at his Premier League club in the just concluded season, while also struggling to impress whenever he played. All that culminated in calls for him not to make Nigeria’s provisional AFCON squad, but he made it all the same. However, it was clear the real shocker would be in him making the trip to Egypt and not otherwise.
Onuachu, Osimhen in! No Surprises
Just like in Iheanacho’s case, it is doubtful anyone would really have been surprised with Paul Onuachcu’s inclusion in Nigeria’s final squad to the AFCON. Also, as in Iheanacho’s case, one could also say it’s been a long time coming. Over the last two seasons, he has scored 39 goals and contributed 14 assists for Danish club, Midtjylland – making him one of the most prolific Nigerian strikers over the same period – and scored quite a goal on his debut against the Pharaohs of Egypt in March. However, all that stat may have played a very little role in him making the squad to Egypt. Although slow of pace – and that’s to be expected for a 6’5” giant – Onuachu’s height and ability to hold up play means he presents a different threat to the other attackers on the team, except maybe, Victor Osimhen.
And of Osimhen, well, it looked as though he was headed in the same direction Iheanacho’s career appears to be headed at the moment. Persistent injury worries and a failure to break into the Wolfsburg team meant he wasn’t considered for the Super Eagles after making his debut in June 2017 against South Africa. However, a sterling season on loan at Sporting Charleroi in Belgium – which saw him net 20 times and provided four assists – meant his inclusion was a no-brainer.
…and Rohr continues a similar pattern
One of the criticisms of Gernot Rohr, is his insistence to stick with a particular crop of players, only making minimal changes and only when absolutely required. While that has largely worked for him (qualifications for the World Cup and AFCON with games to spare), there’s also the belief he hasn’t done enough to refresh the squad. That being said, the 65-year old German keeps sticking to his guns and has pretty much done same with the 23-players that will represent Nigeria in Egypt. With the exception of Samuel Chukwueze (Onuachu was mentioned earlier), it’s pretty much the same set of players whom he has worked with over the last couple of years.
Who should have made it?
Either of Ikouwem Utin or Valentine Ozornwafor should probably have made the final cut as left back options. A quick look at the team, one would notice Jamilu Collins as the only natural left back in there. Although Ola Aina can feature at left back, chances are, he will most likely play at right back, whenever he plays in Egypt. And that presents some lop-sidedness in the defensive selection, as of the defenders selected, almost all can play at right back and have actually played in that position for the team before, with William Troost-Ekong, the odd man out.
The final squad:
Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (Anorthosis Famagusta, Cyprus); Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Katsina United); Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa)
Defenders: Olaoluwa Aina (Torino FC, Italy); Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor FC, Turkey); Chidozie Awaziem (Caykur Rizespor, Turkey); William Ekong (Udinese FC, Italy); Leon Balogun (Brighton & Hove Albion, England); Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Jamilu Collins (SC Paderborn 07, Germany);
Midfielders: Mikel John Obi (Middlesbrough FC, England); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Oghenekaro Etebo (Stoke City FC, England); John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Israel)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Al Nassar FC, Saudi Arabia); Victor Osimhen (Royal Charleroi SC, Belgium); Moses Simon (Levante FC, Spain); Henry Onyekuru (Galatasaray SK, Turkey); Odion Ighalo (Shanghai Shenhua, China); Alexander Iwobi (Arsenal FC, England); Samuel Kalu (Girondins Bordeaux, France); Paul Onuachu (FC Midtjyland, Denmark); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain)