Harare, Zimbabwe(News of the South)-After being paired with Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying ‘Group of Death’, the Super Eagles booked their place in Russia last weekend with a game to spare.
This leaves coach Gernot Rohr with more than enough time to start thinking about his squad for Russia, and to ensure proper planning wins the day for what will be a hectic year.
So, jumping the gun ever so slightly, and barring injuries and/or major loss of form, here is what the German’s travelling squad could look like if departure for the finals was tonight.
BOARDING PASSES IN HAND
John Mikel Obi, Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, Leon Balogun, William Troost-Ekong, Moses Simon, Ogenyi Onazi, Wilfred Ndidi, Odion Ighalo, Elderson Echiejile, Shehu Abdullahi, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Kelechi Iheanacho, Ola Aina
These players are all but nailed on for seats on the plane. Captain Mikel Obi is the leader and undisputed engine-room of the team. The rest of the starting XI and some subs can also be confident of having their boarding passes in hand.
Ikechukwu Ezenwa may or may not be the starting goalkeeper, but he is guaranteed a place. At the back, William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun are shoo-ins, and fullbacks Elderson Echiejile and Shehu Abdullahi have also shown enough consistency to be first-choice picks, with Ola Aina as back-up for one or both.
Joining Mikel Obi as midfield certainties would be Ogenyi Onazi and Wilfred Ndidi, while Victor Moses locks down one wide forward spot, and Moses Simon and Alex Iwobi will alternate the other.
Up-front, Odion Ighalo and a Kelechi Iheanacho will alternate the lone striker position.
AT THE CHECK-IN COUNTER
John Ogu, Ahmed Musa, Anthony Nwakaeme, Kenneth Omeruo, Dele Ajiboye, Daniel Akpeyi, Dele Alampasu, Uche Agbo, Chidozie Awaziem, Oghenekaro Etebo, Mikel Agu, Tyronne Ebuehi, Aaron Samuel
Of this group, Ahmed Musa and Kenneth Omeruo are the most likely to make the squad, mostly for their international experience. But both will need to get games under their belt between now and when that plane is scheduled to take off.
Anthony Nwakaeme and Aaron Samuel will battle for one spot as fallback to the lead striker.
Tyronne Ebuehi is additional back-up for the full-backs, but will need more international games first and prove his value. There are two spots up for grabs for the trio of John Ogu, Mikel Agu and Oghenekaro Etebo to battle over.
Uche Agbo and Chidozie Awaziem might both just get in as back-up to the centre-backs, but their relative inexperience might mean only one gets in, especially if Omeruo picks up one spot.
Dele Ajiboye, Dele Alampasu and Daniel Akpeyi also have two out of three goalkeeping positions to fight over.
WAITING FOR THEIR TICKETS
Vincent Enyeama, Alhassan Ibrahim, Afeez Aremu, Ifeanyi Ifeanyi, Victor Osimhen, Kayode Olanrewaju, Henry Onyekuru, Kelechi Nwakali, Musa Mohammed, Anderson Esiti, Sone Aluko, Hope Akpan
If Vincent Enyeama makes a retirement U-turn, he would automatically upgrade to a boarding pass. And that could have consequences elsewhere.
Alhassan Ibrahim is proving himself within weeks of moving to Austria from Akwa United, while Afeez Aremu and Ifeanyi Ifeanyi could well be domestic league representation, but it will be tough.
Musa Mohammed has been a Rohr favourite but he needs games and consistency; the same as Osimhen, whose youth and inexperience could count against him.
Kayode Olanrewaju and Henry Onyekuru are potential party crashers who will keep Nwakaeme and Samuel on their toes.
Anderson Esiti is beasting in Belgium as a defensive/central midfielder, and Kelechi Nwakali — who is in the same boat — is showing he has the smarts to play as a creative midfielder.
Sone Aluko and Hope Akpan are wildcards who will have to play out of their skins to even get to the training camp. Both fail Rohr’s twin tests of playing in a top league and being under 25.
Let the party begin!-ESPN0
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