Nigeria qualified for the World Cup in impressive fashion. The Super Eagles topped a group also featuring Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia, losing just once along the way. They will subsequently join Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal and Egypt in flying the flag for the African continent in Russia 2018, but who will make Salisu Yusuf’s squad?
Nigeria’s players tend to be spread all across the globe, but their attacking ranks are packed with talent that will be familiar to English fans.
Indeed, Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi leads a group of attackers who are, barring injury, guaranteed to have a seat on the plane to Russia, and all of them have played in England over the last 12 months.
Iwobi has scored twice and provided five assists in the Premier League this season, and will be joined by Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho and his team-mate Ahmed Musa , even though both have struggled to find the back of the net in 2017-18. Iheanacho, once touted as the country’s next great hope, has scored just once for Leicester in the league, while Musa was loaned out by the Foxes to CSKA Moscow in January. He has since scored three times.
Chelsea’s Victor Moses plays in a more attacking role for his country, despite periodically impressing as a wing-back at Stamford Bridge, while Odion Ighalo called time on a spell at Watford to join Changchun Yatai in a £20 million deal earlier this year. Five goals in seven games since the move suggests that he is hitting form at the right time as the World Cup looms.
Iheanacho’s club-mate Wilfred Ndidi is also sure of a spot on the plane, having impressed since the departure of N’Golo Kante to Chelsea. Indeed, he has played for the club 32 times in the league alone this season. He will be joined in midfield by Nigeria’s current captain, former Chelsea star John Obi Mikel , now at Tianjin Teda in China, while Ogenyi Onazi , of Trabzonspor, will add to his 50 caps in Russia.
Moses Simon , at the age of 22, is likely to be one of the younger members of the squad after scoring five goals from midfield for Gent this season. Oghenekaro Etebo , of Las Palmas, is the same age as Simon and will also be included barring any late injury.
Another player who will be familiar to English fans is Ola Aina , who is currently on loan at Hull City from Chelsea. He has been ever present for Hull this season and chose to represent Nigeria despite being capped at a number of youth levels by the Three Lions. Leon Balogun , of Mainz, is also set to take a seat, having made 14 Bundesliga appearances this season. William Troost-Ekong , of Bursaspor, and Brian Idowu – who scored in a recent 4-2 friendly win over Argentina – are also likely to be included in the squad, as is Shedu Abdulahi , a club-mate of Troost-Ekong.
In goal, Nigeria are almost certain to take Ikechukwu Ezenwa – he has won 24 caps, and plies his trade in his native country with Enyimba – and he will be supported by Daniel Akpeyi , who plays in South Africa with Chippa United, and Francis Uzoho , of Spanish side Deportivo Fabril.
Another Chelsea player who has been farmed out on a number of loans is Kenneth Omeruo, who is highly regarded in his native country, and could well end up on the plane to Russia. He has won 36 caps at the age of just 24, and is currently at Kasimpasa in Turkey.
Junior Ajayi has been in fine goalscoring form this season, netting nine times and providing 10 assists for Ahly in Egypt, while Torino’s midfielder Joel Obi has found the net five times from midfield, and will be under consideration by manager Yusuf.
Elderson Echiejile , 30, is one of the most experienced players in Nigeria’s ranks, winning 60 caps in defence, while John Ugo , at Hapoel Be’er Sheva, has reached the same age but has won just 18 caps to date.
Defender Shehu Abdullahi is in the current squad and will hope for it to stay that way, as will 21-year-old centre-back Chidozie Awaziem . Bursaspor’s Mikel Agu has won just four caps, but could become part of his country’s defensive thinking after a solid season.
Dele Alampasu , however, may need disaster to strike for him to be included, the goalkeeper unlikely to be preferred to Uzohu, Ezenwa or Akpeyi if the three are fit.
Meanwhile, Stephen Eze has struggled for game time at Lokomotiv Plovdiv, while Ifeanyi Ifeanyi has won over 10 caps and could be included in midfield.
Victor Osimhen is yet another striker prospect to emerge from Nigeria but he has failed to score for Wolfsburg this season in 13 appearances.
By Harry Sherlock