Nigeria’s latest squad call-up once again brought disappointment for admirers of QPR’s Ebere Eze.
On Thursday, the Super Eagles named their 23-man squad to face Brazil in a prestigious friendly game scheduled for mid-October, with just one new addiction to the list in Slavia Prague’s Peter Olayinka.
It meant that, once again, there was no space for the 21-year old, who has shown such good form that there has been reports he could be an English Premier League player sooner rather than later, with Tottenham Hotspur reportedly keeping close tabs.
In midfield, where Ebere would have fit in, there was a recall for Granada’s in-form starlet Ramon Azeez as Gernot Rohr named six midfielders. That is the most he has listed since just before the Africa Cup of Nations, an area of clear deficiency.
Both call-ups are nothing if not thoroughly deserving.
Former junior international Azeez, who was in Nigeria’s 2014 FIFA World Cup squad before slipping into relative oblivion, showed such strong performances this new season that he broke into the ESPN’s Nigeria Power Rankings for August.
And what more can be said of Olayinka, who transferred his domineering league form into the UEFA Champions League as Prague went within a hair’s breadth of a major upset at giants Inter Milan.
Add the stunning impact made by Glasgow Rangers’ Joseph Aribo on his debut for Nigeria, and it is almost understandable why Eze is still on the outside looking in. Almost.
Midfield has been a problem area for Rohr from the very beginning of his rebuilding process. While his forward line and defence have seen relatively minimal churn, midfield has experienced more than its fair share of turnover, from Nosa Igiebor during the early days to this latest call-up of Azeez.
The German has, to be fair to him, come to something of a settled middle three for his 4-3-3 style. Prior to John Mikel Obi’s retirement, the preferred selection was Obi, Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo, with Alex Iwobi and John Ogu as backstops. Kelechi Iheanacho has also been deployed there occasionally.
With Mikel’s injury absence, then dip in form and eventual retirement, his place was taken by Iwobi. But that area of the team continued to be lacking in numbers, especially after injury to Ogenyi Onazi.
One big criticism of that department has been a lack of creative juice. Almost all of Rohr’s midfielders have been essentially defensive-leaning, when an attack-minded person was desperately needed.
Mikel did not appear particularly suited to the role despite early successes, Etebo has been tried there, as has Iheanacho before Rohr finally settled on Iwobi. The Everton man appears to be settling in there game by game, and occasionally offers glimpses of the crowd-pleasing footwork that gets fans juices going.
Overall however, he is a tidy player who just wants to advance the ball and keep play circulating. Which may explain why there remains a yearning for more. More creativity, more adventure, more invention.
Eze ticks those particular boxes. He possesses the nifty footwork, the eye for a pass, and the vision to get past players. His energy and defensive graft also make him suitable for a box to box role. Not to endow him with all-conquering abilities, but he has the looks of a good fit, especially for the long haul.
That was, until Aribo came along. The Rangers man, in direct competition for the spot, came in like a whirlwind and blew all competitors away. It is only right that he has earned a second call. And it would take a real stinker for him to lose it now.
In danger, though, is Anderson Esiti, who may have earned a recall but played poorly in the last game when he made his return, after over four years in the wilderness. A second dodgy performance could prove fatal to his international career, and open the door to Eze.
There may also be an additional hoop to jump through. Although he is yet to make a competitive appearance, Eze was in the England setup for the UEFA Under 21 championships and Rohr told ESPN a year ago it could mean a longer route to secure the paperwork needed to get him to play in Nigeria colours.
That could well be a reason for his absence, even if a tenuous one, because if he is really needed and wanted by the coach, that paperwork won’t be as big an obstacle as it seems.
NIGERIA SQUAD TO FACE BRAZIL
Defenders: Olaoluwa Aina (Torino FC, Italy); Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor FC, Turkey); Chidozie Awaziem (CD Leganes, Spain); William Ekong (Udinese FC, Italy); Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany); Oluwasemilogo Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion, England)
Midfielders: Alexander Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Anderson Esiti (PAOK Salonica, Greece); Oghenekaro Etebo (Stoke City FC, England); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Joseph Ayodele-Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Ramon Azeez (Granada FC, Spain)
Forwards: Victor Osimhen (Lille OSC, France); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain); Samuel Kalu (Girondins Bordeaux, France); Paul Onuachu (KRC Genk, Belgium); Emmanuel Dennis (Club Brugge, Belgium); Peter Olayinka (SK Slavia Prague, Czech Republic)