Last weekend, Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr announced the final 23-man squad he’s taking to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament, releasing the duo of Ola Aina and Mikel Agu after the game against England.

There’s no overstating the privileged position the selected players have, as it’s every footballer’s dream to represent his nation at an iconic event like the World Cup.

Although playing for Nigeria comes with an attendant pressure that only the brave can stomach, however it’s a ‘welcome stress’ that these chosen players don’t mind being in.

Saddled with the responsibility of donning Nigeria’s elegant and much talked about jersey in Russia, let’s bring you a profile of each of these Super Eagles players Rohr has listed for the World Cup, and also what they will be bringing to the team.

GOALKEEPERS

Francis Uzoho:

Till he made his debut in the La Liga for Deportivo La Coruna, not much was known about this 6ft,5in goalkeeper, as even in the Nigerian circles despite being part of the Golden Eaglets team that won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2013, he was relatively unknown.

Such has been his meteoric rise in recent months after his debut against Argentina, that he has shot up the food chain and now has better reviews at the moment than Dele Alampasu, whom he was deputizing four years ago.

Interestingly, Uzoho only played two games for Deportivo but in the few games he has played for Nigeria, he has shown that he can be trusted to be Nigeria’s number one, and Rohr is seemingly trusting him to retain that spot, giving him enough game time to build his confidence.

In Nigeria’s recent friendly games against Congo DR and England, Uzoho alongside William Troost Ekong were the only ones not to be substituted.

Verdict: Will be the first choice goalkeeper.
Club: Deportivo La Coruna
Age: 19
Place of birth: Nwangele, Imo State, Nigeria
Caps: 5

Ikechukwu Ezenwa 
When the Super Eagles had what was a goalkeeping crisis following the illness of Carl Ikeme and the retirement of Vincent Enyeama, Ezenwa was the go-to-guy who came in and steadied the ship.

It must be said that the four games which defined Ezenwa’s Super Eagles career were the World Cup qualifiers against Cameroon, Zambia and Algeria. Rohr had a choice to make as he was still sticking to Daniel Akpeyi, however an injury to the latter gave Ezenwa an opportunity to have a run in the team.

Ezenwa was brave in the games he played for Nigeria, conceding two goals in those four games, all being penalties and away from home. Who would forget that last minute safe in Yaounde, which would have turned a valuable draw into defeat.

Verdict: will now be second choice to Uzoho

Club: Ifeanyi Ubah FC
Age: 29
Place of birth: Yenegoa, Bayelsa
Caps: 24

Daniel Akpeyi:
Rohr has kept faith with Akpeyi and sees him as a good goalkeeper to be in his team, although it must be said that so many fans think he shouldn’t be going to Russia. However, with the goalkeeping options available, Akpeyi has earned his place in the team.

Having been the first choice keeper for the under 23 team that won Bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games, Akpeyi is yet to stamp his authority in the Super Eagles set up.

With howlers in high profile matches like the 2019 Nations Cup qualifiers against South Africa and recently in the friendly against Argentina, it’s hard seeing Rohr keeping faith with him in goal in Russia.

Verdict: will be third choice keeper

Club: Chippa United
Age: 31
Place of birth: Nnewi, Anambra state
Caps: 7

DEFENDERS

Tyrone Ebuehi:
Not many would have believed that Ebuehi has hardly been in the Super Eagles team for up to a year, but whenever he plays for Nigeria he does like one who has been in the team in aeons.

Turning down an opportunity to play in Nigeria’s World Cup qualifier against Algeria in 2016, opting to settle into his then club Ado Den Haag, Ebuehi made his debut in 2017, coming in as a substitute against Togo.

However the breakthrough for Ebuehi came in Nigeria’s last two games against Congo DR and England where a decent showing has seen many calling for him to cement his hold on the Right Back position.

What’s working for him is that he’s suitable to any formation, easily fitting in as a wingback and comfortable in a flat four. Importantly too he’s technically adept and offers a lot in attack.

Verdict: should be a starter

Club: Benfica
Age: 22
Place of birth: Haarlem, Holland
Caps: 6

Shehu Abdullahi
During the World Cup qualifiers, it looked like no one could wrestle that Right Back position from Abdullahi, especially after he won man-of-the-match award in the crucial game against Zambia.

However some shaky performances this year have put his position under threat, especially after the emergence of Ebuehi.

At this moment and using the England game as a parameter, even Abdullahi knows that his starting position is not assured but he would be grateful knowing that he’s in the team to Russia.

Abdullahi played an integral role for the under 23 side that won Bronze two years ago in Brazil, and will be hoping he can reignite that 2016 form again.

Verdict: will be on the bench

Club: Bursaspor
Age: 25
Place of birth: Sokoto, Nigeria
Caps: 24

William Troost Ekong
The first part of Nigeria’s famed “Oyibo-Wall”, Troost-Ekong has been a mainstay in the Super Eagles central defence since making his debut in 2015 in an AFCON qualifier against Chad.

Having really proved his mettle in 2016 for Nigeria at the Olympics, Troost-Ekong went on to feature in all of the remaining Super Eagles World Cup qualifiers, being part of a defence that conceded just four goals in six games.

Troost-Ekong will bring some steel in that defence and an aerial suitability to match any towering striker in the air. He must be brewing with confidence following his recent goal for Nigeria against Congo DR. By the way, that was his first ever goal for the Super Eagles.

Verdict: will be Nigeria’s first choice centreback

Club: Bursaspor
Age: 24
Place of birth: Haarlem, Holland
Caps: 21

Leon Balogun:
The second part of that “Oyibo Wall”, Balogun now finally has a chance to represent Nigeria at a FIFA World Cup tournament.

Balogun’s chances of making Nigeria’s team to the 2014 World Cup looked bright, being a late call-up to replace Joseph Yobo, however an injury in the friendly against Mexico robbed him of that opportunity and he was sidelined for up to three months.

Four years on, Balogun has cemented his place alongside Troost-Ekong as Nigeria’s first choice central pair, and has not looked back since then.

Recently he completed a move from the Bundesliga to join Premier League outfit, Brighton and Hove, an interesting move that will see more Nigerian audience watching him play in the EPL.

Having bided his time and clocking 30years soon, he will be delighted he chose Nigeria over Germany, as that presented him with this opportunity to play at the World Cup.

Verdict: will be a starter

Club: Brighton and Hove Albion
Age: 29
Place of birth: West Berlin, Germany
Caps: 18

Chidozie Awaziem
Awaziem will be relishing the chance he has going to the World Cup to represent Nigeria. It’s something he won’t be taking for granted knowing how many people who would give an arm and a leg to be in his position.

Playing on loan in Ligue 1 with Nantes from Portuguese side, Porto FC, Awaziem had some impressive showings in France under the guidance of former Leicester City coach, Claudio Ranieri.

Although he has played limited games for the Super Eagles, he will bring an experience and physique needed in defence, if required to fill in for any of the regular centrebacks

Verdict: will be on the bench

Club: Nantes (on loan from Porto)
Age: 21
Place of birth: Jos, Nigeria
Caps: 3

Kenneth Omeruo
Although Omeruo is still a younger defender, he can be likened to a veteran having been in the Super Eagles team for over five years, earning 38 caps in the process.

As a young fearless defender in 2013, Omeruo played his part helping Nigeria win the AFCON trophy in South Africa, remarkably putting in an outstanding performance man-marking Didier Drogba.

Could be said that Omeruo hastened Joseph’s Yobo retirement from the national team, being the first choice at the 2014 World Cup tournament, however he has been in and out of the Super Eagles team since 2015.

He hardly featured in the qualifiers, however with the World Cup drawing close he somehow found some form and had some run with the team.

Going to his second World Cup tournament, Omeruo will be a worthy deputy in defence to call upon if needed to fill in any gap.

Verdict: will be on the bench.

Club: Kasımpaşa (on loan from Chelsea)
Age: 24
Place of birth: Abia State, Nigeria
Caps: 38

Elderson Echiejile
When Rohr was yet to announce his team to Russia, many feared for the fate of Echiejile whom was tipped to be axed by the German.

However Rohr has kept faith with Echiejile, sticking with the him as he would bring a lot of experience not just on the pitch, but will be a big influence in the dressing room.

Echiejile is going to Russia as Nigeria’s most capped defender in the team with 58 caps and two goals. Despite having started competing for Nigeria since 2009, this will be his first World Cup bow.

Verdict: will be on the bench

Club: Cercle Brugge
Age: 30
Place of birth: Benin, Nigeria
Caps: 58

Brian Oladapo Idowu
Idowu must be thanking his stars, that despite not playing a single World Cup qualifier for Nigeria, he’s on the plane with the Super Eagles to a country where he was born.

The left back would have been eligible to represent Russia if he wished, however the opportunity to play for Nigeria seemed like a more enticing project for him.

Interestingly on his debut, he bagged one of the goals that helped Nigeria beat Argentina in the 4-2 friendly. He has impressed the coaching crew in just the four games he has played in to be picked.

Verdict: should be a starter

Club: Amkar Perm
Age: 26
Place of birth: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Caps: 4

MIDFIELDERS

John Mikel Obi:
It’s only natural that we start profiling the midfielders of the Super Eagles, starting with the team’s skipper Mikel Obi.

Mikel is not just the oldest player for Nigeria, he’s the most capped and experienced of the 23 players. But for an injury in 2010, Mikel would have been making his third World Cup appearance, having an unrivalled place in the team.

Only few players will move to the Chinese League and have their spots unchallenged in the National team. Such is the status Mikel has attained and the value he brings when he leads the side.

When Nigeria lost at home to South Africa in the AFCON qualifiers, it was visible that Mikel’s leadership was lacking in the middle as he didn’t play in the tie because of an injury. However he came back and played prominently to help Super Eagles secure World Cup qualification.

The Central Attacking midfield role he plays for Nigeria liberates him to dictate the tempo and set the forwards on the move. This tournament is most likely going to be Mikel’s last for Nigeria, and surely he would want to bow out on a high.

Verdict: as skipper, his starting place is assured

Club: Tianjin TEDA
Age: 31
Place of birth: Jos, Nigeria
Caps: 84

Ogenyi Onazi
Onazi will be going to the World Cup as Nigeria’s second most capped player in midfield, and fourth overall, an experience that Rohr knows is very valuable.

Although Onazi might quickly want to forget his last game for Nigeria against England where he gave the ball away which led to his team conceding a goal, he would hope that he has not lost his place in the starting eleven.

In fact, some people still argue that for that malicious injury which he sustained at the 2014 World Cup following Blaise Matuidi’s stamp on his ankle, the outcome of that tie with France could have been different.

Onazi was in good form that year and was the perfect fit to screen Nigerian defenders, breaking up play and also setting the motion. Left to be seen if Rohr can trust him in the defensive midfield.

Verdict: will be on the bench

Club: Trabzonspor
Age: 25
Place of birth: Jos, Nigeria
Caps: 52

John Ogu
Having come close the last time, Ogu is finally getting a deserved opportunity to rep Nigeria at a FIFA World Cup tournament. He was part of the team to the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, however he missed out on the 2014 World cup.

Although he has not been a regular starter for Rohr, he has done decent jobs when given run-ins to prove his mettle.

Scoring a spectacular volley against Algeria in Algiers, he can chip in the occasional goals and has a long range shooting ability to worry goalkeepers.

As he displayed against England, Ogu comes with a variety of options and can even play as the left sided defender in a back three, although his best can come through a Central midfield role.

Verdict: should be starting for the Super Eagles

Club: Hapoel Be’er Sheva
Age: 30
Place of birth: Lagos, Nigeria
Caps: 19

Wilfred Ndidi:
Such is the importance of Ndidi that since his unavailability due to an injury, many are fretting and hoping he’s passed fit to feature in Nigeria’s first group game against Croatia.

Ndidi copped an injury for Leicester towards the end of last season, missing out on Nigeria’s two recent friendly games as he races to get fit for the World Cup. While they were camped in Nigeria, Ndidi was training alone, but the technical team expects he will soon be fit.

He has been likened to former Super Eagles skipper Sunday Oliseh, because of his tough tackling abilities and his showings in the Premier League has helped enhance his reputation the more.

No doubt if he’s fit, he would help protect the Nigerian defence, putting out the fire from opposition teams.

Verdict: will start

Club: Leceister City FC
Age: 21
Place of birth: Lagos, Nigeria
Caps: 16

Oghenekaro Etebo
Hard not to have taken Etebo to Russia as he brings a lot to the table, not just as a midfielder, but can also slot into any position in attack.

Etebo came into prominence during the 2016 Rio Olympics, scoring 4 goals in a single game against Japan. He was very pivotal to that team that when he got injured, his absence was felt.

He made the transition to the senior side and has been a regular in the team since then, although he would want to command more starting roles.

One attribute Etebo will offer the Super Eagles is his ability on dead balls, he can pick out a teammate and has an eye for a through pass.

Verdict: will be on the bench

Club: Las Palmas (on loan from Feirense)
Age: 22
Place of birth: Lagos, Nigeria
Caps: 14

Joel Obi
Perhaps the luckiest midfielder from the provisional team going to the World Cup, Joel Obi was the surprise inclusion when the final team was announced.

There could be something Rohr has been seeing at training that two games weren’t enough for the jury to pass a verdict on the player.

Since the retirement of Jay Jay Okocha, Obi has been the closest Nigeria has come to unearthing a dazzling midfielder with an eye for a pass. However, injuries has dealt with him a lot that he has not been able to show that 2011 form which saw him starting 11 games in a row for Nigeria.

Obi didn’t sparkle in the games against Serbia, Congo DR and England, and many questioned why he made the team over Mikel Agu who was dropped.

Hopefully he will find his creative verve again, and go on to attain those heights when he was still at Inter Milan that made people look forward to seeing him play for Nigeria.

Verdict: will be on the bench.

Club: Torino
Age: 27
Place of birth: Lagos, Nigeria
Caps: 17

ATTACKERS

Jude Odion Ighalo:
Just when people were thinking of what to do with Ighalo, he put up a respectable showing against England to show that he could still do a job. Ighalo was isolated in the first half of that game, but when the team changed tactics, he became more involved and his hold-up play was impressive.

Ighalo had a great outing against Cameroon in both legs of the qualifiers, leading from the front as Nigeria secured four points from six on offer.

The former Watford man should still keep his place in attack for Nigeria when the World Cup kicks off.

Verdict: will start for Nigeria

Club: Changchun Yatai
Age: 28
Place of birth: Lagos, Nigeria
Caps: 18

Victor Moses:
How times fly as Moses is set to be compete in his second World Cup tournament for Nigeria. Has to be said that Moses is fast turning into a Nigerian veteran since his switch from England in 2011.

Such is his importance that he’s been viewed as the leading light in attack for Nigeria, and can play on either sides of the wings. He might be a wingback for Chelsea, but in Nigeria he’s preferred in attack because of his threat to opposition defenders.

Moses played a blinder in Nigeria’s World Cup qualifiers against Algeria in Uyo, scoring two goals in the 3-1 defeat of the Desert Foxes.

Nigerians would hope that’s the version of Moses that turns up in Russia, not the one against England at Wembley, although he could be given a pass having not played since the end of season.

Verdict: will start

Club: Chelsea
Age: 27
Place of birth: Lagos, Nigeria
Caps: 33

Ahmed Musa
Knowing that his World Cup place was in jeopardy, Musa had to secure a loan move back to his former club, CSKA Moscow in order to get some game time which he was not getting at Leicester City.

The move to Leicester looked like the perfect move and scoring two goals for them in a friendly, it looked like that he was destined for the stars. However things don’t always turn out as planned as he quickly secured a loan move to save his career.

Musa became an instant regular back at CSKA and even helped them get to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, losing out to Arsenal and playing in both games.

He brings speed and awareness, a decent option to have in attack. Hopefully Musa gets fired up again when he faces Argentina, remember he scored two remarkable goals against them in a group game in 2014.

Musa with 71 caps and 13 goals, is the second most capped player in the Super Eagles team to the World Cup.

Verdict: would be a very good option from the bench

Club: CSKA Moscow (on loan from Leicester City)
Age: 25
Place of birth: Jos, Nigeria
Caps: 71

 

Kelechi Iheanacho
From the prodigy who won the best player award at the 2013 FIFA under 17 World Cup, Iheanacho has grown to be an integral member of the senior national side.

Iheanacho joins the elite list of players to have taken part in all three levels of FIFA World Cup tournaments, also participating at the 2015 under 20 world cup where he made two appearances.

With Manchester City acquiring big name moves, Iheanacho at the start of last season moved to Leicester in order to play more. Although he didn’t walk into Leceister’s team, he’s gradually proving to Claude Puel on what he can do.

Iheanacho led the cast of young stars who beat Argentina 4-2 last year, if he gets close to that level, then he could help Nigeria’s attack a lot in Russia.

Verdict: will be on the bench

Club: Leceister
Age: 22
Place of birth: Owerri, Imo state Nigeria
Caps: 17

 

Simeon Nwankwo
Not many knew about Nwankwo before he got the call-up for Nigeria’s provisional World Cup list last month. It was an audition to see if he could go make the cut, and he grabbed it with both hands.

Nwankwo needed just one game to show what he could do, and Rohr was impressed with what he had seen from him against DR Congo. The 6ft 6in striker ran his socks off and came close to scoring when he hit the post.

To some, he reminds them of the legendary Kanu Nwankwo. Although it could be putting so much burden on the striker, but it is a wonderful comparison for Simy to have.

Verdict: good option from the bench

Club: Crotone
Age: 26
Place of birth: Onitsha, Nigeria
Caps:1

Alex Iwobi:
Someone alluded that Iwobi plays his best football for Nigeria than he does for Arsenal, and this might not be far from the truth.

Sharing the enviable association of being Okocha’s nephew, Iwobi has grown in leaps and bounds since pitching his allegiance for Nigeria over England.

Just like his uncle Okocha, Iwobi has already secured his place in Nigeria’s football folklore, coming off the bench to score the all important goal which secured qualification for the World Cup.

Iwobi is rapidly improving his goals returns for Nigeria, netting two against Argentina last year, and most recently against England at Wembley.

He’s as important for Nigeria as Moses is, and if he gets into positions to tuck in rebounds like he did against England, expect him to run riot against the opponents they come up against.

Verdict: will be a starter

Club: Arsenal
Age: 22
Place of birth: Lagos, Nigeria
Caps: 18

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Very proficient in writing and talking about football, but has now found a new love in Athletics. Just a matter of time before I become a master on things pertaining to the tracks. Formerly the Content Manager-Sports at NigerianBulletin and Allsports, Christopher is now a Senior Sports writer at Making of Champions.

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