Late last night, Head Coach Stephen Keshi, much to the frenzied expectation of Super Eagles fans everywhere, released his 23-man squad for the World Cup starting in just under 10 day’s time! Only SIX players from the squad listed for the 2010 World Cup return for Brazil – Enyeama, Ejide, Yobo, Echiéjilé, Odemwingie and Mikel Obi (though Obi later pulled out and was replaced by Ideye due to injury). Yobo and Odemwingie were beneficiaries of well-publicised apologies to Keshi, after they had been frozen out of the team since the 2013 African Nation’s Cup, mainly for reasons of insubordination. Osaze fans will be hoping the World Cup will be a twitter-free zone!
NIGERIA’S FINAL 23 FOR BRAZIL 2014
GOALKEEPERS: Vincent Enyeama, Austin Ejide, Chigozie Agbim
DEFENDERS: Joseph Yobo, Elderson Echiéjilé, Juwon Oshaniwa, Godfrey Oboabona, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Kenneth Omeruo, Efe Ambrose, Kunle Odunlami
MIDFIELDERS: John Mikel Obi, Ogenyi Onazi, Ramon Azeez, Michael Uchebo, Reuben Gabriel
FORWARDS: Osaze Odemwingie, Ahmed Musa, Shola Ameobi, Emmanuel Emenike, Michael Babatunde, Victor Moses, Uche Nwofor
In true Naija-style, the number of forwards listed outnumbers the midfielders, though it should be noted that 4 of the 7 forwards can and will actually be used as wingers, so they could and should be considered as midfielders! Perhaps the biggest surprise in the list perhaps Michael Babatunde – the little known left-sided player for Volyn Lutsk in the Ukrainian Premier League did not do much to enhance his reputation at the Confederations Cup last year, and his inclusion leaves many fans wondering why 2010 World Cup veterans Obinna Nsofor (who made the provisional 30, but reportedly was struggling with an injury in camp) and Chinedu Obasi (despite recently returning from injury for Schalke) did not make the cut!
There are no surprises in DEFENCE – Keshi kept the 7 who were in the ANC title-winning squad, plus Sunshine Stars’ Kunle Odunlami. This time around Yobo may have to be satisfied with the ‘experienced substitute’ role, but don’t bet against him adding to his 95 caps – he may even get to 100 if Nigeria goes deep in this World Cup!
In MIDFIELD, Despite not playing many games this season, it would seem that Reuben Gabriel is a Keshi-favourite, as he made the cut ahead of the likes of Parma’s Joel Obi and Nosa Igiebor of Real Betis in central midfield (both of whom have struggled with long-term injuries, so perhaps not as big as a surprise as it could have been that they were excluded). Along with Ramon Azeez, Gabriel looks set to deputise for Mikel Obi and Onazi in the heart of the midfield.
In ATTACK, it would seem that Michael Uchebo and Uche Nwofor especially played their way from the fringes into squad with their goals against Scotland last week. It is unclear if Uchebo will be used upfront or in attacking midfield (or indeed if he will see any playing time), but from the little we’ve seen of Nwofor, he has an eye for goal and could be Nigeria’s secret weapon upfront!
Who else missed out? Well, TWO players who were until now seen as Keshi favourites ultimately did not make the cut – Sunday Mba and Nnamdi Oduamadi. It has been suggested that Mba likely missed out due to his late arrival at the Super Eagles camp in London, where he did not even show up in time to play in the Scotland friendly last week (reportedly due to visa issues). After a tournament MVP performance and some stunning game-winning goals from Enugu Rangers’ Ejike Uzoenyi at the Home-based Nations’s Cup (CHAN) this year, many expected him to have booked his plane to Brazil already, but he also just misses out as one of the 7 dropped from the provisional list!
Mba & Oduamadi scored crucial goals to help Nigeria lift the African Nation’s Cup and qualify for the World Cup respectively, and along with the Super Eagles’ mainstays such as Enyeama, Emenike, Mikel Obi and Moses, they were immortalised in this video celebrating Nigeria’s ROAD TO BRAZIL – all the African Nations Cup and World Cup Qualifying Goals…in just FOUR MINUTES!
Good luck to the team at the Big Dance – congratulations to the players who made the squad, and commiserations to those who didn’t – let’s all get behind the Super Eagles to do us proud at the World Cup, and go to levels that no Nigeria team has ever reached! (read: Quarter-finals minimum!)