As the stage sets for another audition for stars of Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), our Chief Football Writer, FISAYO DAIRO, takes a look at Saliu Yusuf’s position in the locally assembled Super Eagles as they play against their Beninoise counterparts on Sunday.
By the time a locally assembled Super Eagles side file out against their Beninoise counterparts on Sunday, they will be hoping to excel on two fronts. First, to convince doubting Nigerians and national team handlers that there is substance in the much vilified league and two, to satisfy the seeming insatiable crave for success which Nigerians demand from any team in the green and white colours.
It is fitting that two coaches with respectable experiences in managing teams in the NPFL very recently, Salisu Yusuf and Imama Amapakabo are in charge of this Super Eagles team hence, it can be taken as an NPFL team through and through. From a list of 30 invited players, the final 20-man squad to travel to Cotonou on Friday was made public by the Football Federation on Thursday, a final step in preparing for Sunday’s game.
This is a national assignment. After missing out on the first two editions of the African Nations Championships, Nigeria have participated in the last two and millions of football fans in the country will be looking forward to watching their team in Kenya next January, such an expectation must not be dashed by a less-fancied neighbour, Benin Republic whose population, land mass and GDP are scarcely to be compared to the Nigerian state it shares border with, Lagos.
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Right from the first set of invitation, it was noted that some of the best legs in the league (if not all) were called up for camping. There were a few names here and there but the technical crew’s criteria for selection could hardly be faulted seeing the quality of talents at their disposal.
Having seen virtually all the players play for their respective clubs in the league, Thursday’s squad announcement was another chance for to test the level of sincerity and objectivity in the selection of players and I can affirmatively say that but for one or two players, the eight players dropped have no business in Cotonou.
Make no mistake, these are very good players, especially at club level but there has to be better players in representing the country, I believe this is what the technical crew have done, afterall, it is what they earn millions of Nigerian currency for.
The Ali conundrum
Rabiu Ali is a legend in his own right, the emblematic figure of multiple league champions Kano Pillars, owners of the Sani Abacha Stadium which will stage the return leg against Benin Republic.
For all the domestic success of Pele as he is fondly called in Kano, there remains a lump of underachievement at international level which the 36-year old will be looking to lift off his shoulder with his participation with this team. But how does Ali fit into this team? You can hardly name the ten best performers in the NPFL in each of the last seven seasons without Ali’s name in it but he hardly translates the performances into international competitions.
A riddle the present coaching crew must solve ahead of Sunday’s clash is whether or not to play Ali. He started alongside Alhassan Ibrahim, arguably the Eagles’ biggest prospect in their last friendly on Tuesday but there was no result to show as both players share similarities with Alhassan’s flexibility an advantage for the young man.
Akwa’s big four must be unbroken
Furtherance to “The Ali Conundrum” is this key part of the team’s process. It was unsurprising to many that Akwa United, a team in 3rd position on the NPFL log have four key players represented in this squad.
United, under a thorough scholar Abdu Maikaba have wormed their way into the hearts of many league followers with their midfield trident a huge factor. But for their lethargic start to the season – United won just 1 out of their first 7 games -, many believe they would be on top of the table by now.
Alhassan Ibrahim, Ifeanyi Ifeanyi and the quiet but efficient Afeez Aremu have hardly been outplayed by any league side both home and away this term. The understanding and synergy among the trio is the type of platform that any team will thrive on, the Super Eagles B not exempted.
Ibrahim and Ifeanyi come with international experience as both players were part of Manu Garba’s Under-20 side in 2015, an added advantage for this level and defender Emmanuel Ariwachukwu played all three games on an NPFL All Stars tour of Spain last year, an experience he says has made him a better player. These should be the fulcrum for Yusuf’s lever.
This ought not to be in the script especially when a goalkeeper is the captain of the team. Ikechukwu Ezenwa’s antecedent is well documented and having been the first choice for this team in the past three years, everything looked settled until Dele Ajiboye appeared on the scene.
Ajiboye, a contemporary of Manchester United’s David De Gea at the FIFA Under 17 World Cup final in 2007 has had a stellar season in the NPFL and is one of the key reasons Plateau United are coasting home to the league title. He has earned rave reviews in camp and further made a big statement for himself when his heroics helped his team to a 1-1 draw at Kano Pillars last Sunday, right in front of the national team selectors.
Ezenwa is not new to international competitions but having won both the U-17 AFCON (Togo 2007) and FIFA U-17 Championships (in Korea), Ajiboye is not lacking in that area as well. It presents more selection headaches for the technical crew and we hope they arrive at the best solutions for Nigeria.
My Possible XI:
Ezenwa; Okoro, Akas, Orji Kalu, Ariwa; Aremu, Ifeanyi, Alhassan; Zenke, Olatunbosun, Odey.
Do you agree with this article and my projected lineup? Feel free to share your thoughts on the comments section.