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2019 AFCON and Eagles’ provisional list

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2019 AFCON and Eagles’ provisional list

The 32nd Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will take place between June 21 and July 19 in four Egyptian cities. For the first time in history, the competition is taking place in the summer and it has also been extended from 16 to a 24-team tournament. Guinea, Madagascar and Burundi are drawn to play in the same group with the Super Eagles in the preliminaries. Nigeria’s Manager, Gernot Rohr, rolled out a provisional list of 25 players and that signals Nigeria’s run-in for the AFCON finals. We are aware that there can never be a perfect list, but it is important to evaluate the players Rohr is banking on to represent Nigeria in Egypt.

The return of Mikel Obi and Kelechi Iheanacho is a major talking point in the list. Mikel is yet to play one game for Nigeria since the country’s ouster from the World Cup in St Petersburg by Argentina at Russia 2018. Nigeria lost 2-1.

He excused himself from all the friendly and competitive games played by the Eagles in the past one year and bringing him in for this competition is most unfair to other players who toiled to win the ticket. As the skipper, Mikel should have been present to play his role as a leader even if he was not going to feature in some of the games. We acknowledge that the former Chelsea player is still good enough to be in the team, but his long absence is unwarranted. We urge the coach to stick with Ahmed Musa as captain while Mikel plays a fatherly role to help the country’s quest for the trophy.

This is not strange as it happened to Joseph Yobo and Nwankwo Kanu at some point in the past. Mikel does not deserve to wear the skippers’ band in Egypt. It was a surprise that only four midfielders were named in the main list and Mikel Agu in the provisional.

The four players are almost certain to make the final cut and it would have been better to have at least six players competing for four slots. Iheanacho, who was not part of the last round of games against Libya and Egypt, is shockingly on the cards for Egypt despite his poor run of form.

It has been argued that the coach wanted to give him a chance to prove himself, but Rohr should have done that with the two games played in Asaba because from now, the team should be administered on merit without sentiments in the best interest of Nigeria. Again, we make bold to say it was a shock that Rohr brought out a list of three goalkeepers in the main team – Daniel Akpeyi, Okechukwu Ezenwa and Francis Uzoho – without getting one or two others who could push the trio and possibly displace one of them.

There is no doubt about the fact that there is a goalkeeping problem in the team, but Rohr kept fate with the three keepers he has been using in the past one year as if there are no issues. We fault the decision of the technical crew to place Enyimba goalie, Theophillous Afelokhai, on standby, rather than the main team, to compete with others keenly. Competing as a standby is unfair on Afelokhai, because one of the three others will have to be injured for him to come in. We believe Ezenwa is the best of the top three, but Rohr has a different view and there are no concrete plans to challenge Uzoho.

We also expected that the coaches should have brought in one or two more central defenders, but somehow, Rohr must have decided to keep faith with his boys who featured in the preliminaries.

There was no room created for a keen contest expected before a big competition like the Nations Cup. Most of the players in all the departments are too comfortable, including the goalkeeping area where there is no top-notch person to rely on. It is sad that the same country that produced Emmanuel Okala, Best Ogedegbe, Peter Rufai, Vincent Enyeama and a host of others in the past is now struggling to get a reliable number one goalie.

Generally, the forthcoming AFCON promises to be highly competitive as countries like host Egypt, South Africa, Senegal, Morocco, Ghana and defending champions, Cameroon, are on a high. We therefore charge the Eagles to double efforts to match the high-riding favourites. Rohr and his crew should ensure merit prevail and avoid favouritism.

Nigeria failed to qualify for the last two editions of the competition and this time, the Eagles should go all out for the trophy. So far, Nigeria has three AFCON titles in its kitty and the time is ripe to increase the country’s gold haul.

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