As coach Salisu Yusuf prepares to name his squad for the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifiers in August against Togo or Benin Republic, Naijafootballplus.com NPFL expert Adepoju Tobi gives his verdict on who should be part of the team for the qualifiers.
CHAN is a football tournament designed by Confederation of African Football (CAF) for players based in respective leagues in Africa. The tournament served off in 2009 and CAF have hosted four successful editions.
Nigeria failed to qualify for the CHAN tournament on two occasions (2009 and 2011), but made their debut at the tournament in 2014 when South Africa hosted. The team under late Stephen Keshi finished with Bronze medal and Ejike Uzoenyi who plied his trade at Rangers International then won the best player of the tournament award.
The last edition was catastrophic for Nigeria, as the team failed to advance from the Group Stages. Nigeria needing a point, lost 0-1 to Guinea. The early exit of the team amongst other things saw Sunday Oliseh resign from his position as Super Eagles manager.
With Nigeria scheduled to face the winner between Togo and Benin Republic in August. The squad for that qualifier should include a mixture of young talents and experienced players. One of the major factor of the team’s poor performance in Rwanda last year was that the team lacked quality from the bench.
Gbolahan Salami and some experienced players in the league were left out of the 2016 squad. Chisom Chikatara and Usman Mohammed got injured before the last group game against Guinea and the team collapsed tactically.
CHAN Eagles coach, Salisu Yusuf should build the new CHAN team around few players that featured in the last tournament, NPFL stars that featured in the pre-season tournament in Spain last year and young quality players who have emerged from the ongoing NPFL season.
Naijafootballplus.com 2018 CHAN Squad;
Ikechukwu Ezenwa (FC Ifeanyi Ubah)
Suraj Ayeleso (Nasarawa United)
Ojo Olorunleke (Akwa United).
This is the most competitive position in the NPFL, goalkeepers in the league have been wonderful this season. I think this position will give Super Eagles goalkeeper trainer, Alloy Agu sleepless nights, who to pick and who to drop. I also find it hard picking the three goalkeepers from a poll of 9 goalkeepers who have done pretty decent job this season for their clubs respectively.
Ezenwa is favourite on the list, he was the first choice at the last CHAN tournament and despite the early exit he had a good tournament. He is also been part of the main Super Eagles team and his experience will be an important factor for the team.
Ayeleso has been one ofthe most outstanding goalkeeper in the NPFL this season with 11 clean sheets for Nasarawa United. He has also garnered experience over the years in the NPFL.
Olorunleke was a former Flying Eagles goalkeeper. He’s got amazing reflexes. He has saved more penalty kicks than any other goalkeeper this season (3). He has kept 9 clean sheets and his superb performances earned him a mid-season transfer from Sunshine Stars to Akwa United. Ayeleso and Olorunleke would provide quality cover and competition for Ezenwa.
Golbe Elisha (Plateau United)
Ifeanyi Nweke (Rivers United)
Jamiu Alimi (Kano Pillars)
Stephen Eze (FC Ifeanyi Ubah)
Samson Gbadebo (Enyimba Int’l)
Daniel Itodo (Plateau United)
Ebuka Anaekwe (ABS FC).
At the last tournament, the full-backs were not mobile and set piece advantage were all wasted. Chima Akas’ error cost the team against Guinea. This time, Salisu must play with mobile full-backs and tall Centre backs, the tournament is physical and tough.
Elisha and Itodo got into this list for one reason, set pieces, Elisha has scored five headers from aerial balls this season and Itodo’s long throw-ins has helped Plateau United score many goals, A Delap (Former Stoke City player) comparison. Both players have also helped in ensuring Plateau United conceded just 18 goals after 25 matches. With Elisha and Itodo, Salisu’s team is guaranteed mobility and and advantage from set pieces against their opponents.
Jamiu Alimi, Stephen Eze and Samson Gbadebo were all part of the last tournament. Alimi has been involved in the main team under Gernot Rohr. He and Eze’s height gives the Super Eagles an advantage during dealing with aerial balls situations.
Nweke is one of the brightest right-backs in the league and Anaekwe has been one of the revelation of the season, especially with his Messi like solo run goal he scored against El-kanemi Warriors.
Ifeanyi Ifeanyi (Akwa United)
Chukwuka Onuwa (MFM FC)
Dare Ojo (Enyimba Int’l)
Rabiu Ali (Kano Pillars)
Samuel Chukwudi (Wikki Tourists)
Godwin Aguda (Rangers Int’l)
Ayobami Junior (Shooting Stars).
I will start with the new kid in town, Abayomi Junior. He should get a chance, young, energetic with good vision. His final balls are excellent, such quality was missing in the previous team.
Chukwuka Onuwa of MFM also adds same quality with more experience.
Dare Ojo’s defensive ability and ball winning qualities puts him in good stead of making the cut. Not forgetting his occasional rocket shots from range.
Ifeanyi Ifeanyi has featured in 25 matches this season, he is arguably one of the most consistent midfielders in the NPFL this season. The former National U20 midfielder will be a top quality to the team and a perfect replacement for Ifeanyi Mathew who featured in the last edition but now ply his trade abroad.
Rabiu Ali comes into the team with his huge experience, he was part of the squad for the 2014 CHAN edition. His experience will be vital during difficult situation. He has been the most consistent midfielder in the league while Samuel Chukwudi and Godwin Aguda are supremely talented.
Stephen Odey (MFM FC)
Ibrahim Alhassan (Akwa United)
Sikiru Olatunbosun (MFM FC)
Sunday Adetunji (Abia Warriors)
Mfon Udoh (Enyimba Int’l)
Godwin Obaje (FC Ifeanyi Ubah).
Honestly, coach Salisu has got a difficult task picking his attackers. This season has witnessed the strikers in great scoring competition. Salisu might find it hard to settle for his final six strikers, it wasn’t easy picking this six as Tony Okpotu, Samuel Mathias and Adamu Hassan were dropped to the stand-by list.
The six strikers selected have produced 61 NPFL goals after matchday 25 matches. Stephen Odey is the league’s top with 15 goals, he is just three goals away from equalling last season’s record of 18 and eight goals shy of tieing Mfon Udoh’s 23-goals in a single season record.
Odey, Ibrahim Alhassan and Sikiru Olatunbosun were part of Gernot Rohr’s preparations for the 2019 AFCON qualifier against South Africa.
Alhassan made the final squad while Odey and Sikiru were excused. Sikiru and Alhassan were also part of the NPFL All-Stars team to Spain last year. Salisu has got continuity and quality options with the trio.
Sunday Adetunji has emerged as one of the best transfers this season, he has scored 11 league goals at Abia Warriors since his move from Shooting Stars. Adetunji’s height might be another advantage for the physical CHAN tournament.
Mfon Udoh has got huge experience, playing for the National team and also playing club continental football with Enyimba. He is on 10 league goals this season. Godwin Obaje was last season’s top scorer and his move to FC Ifeanyi Ubah this season have seen him score 9 times. He is tall and quick in the final third.
The Super Eagles have got enough quality options this term compared to the previous tournament, apart from Chisom Chikatara the likes of Tunde Adetunji and Bright Onyedikachi failed to compliment the effort of Chikatara.
Another big issue at the last CHAN was captainship. Chima Akas was a wrong leader, he couldn’t lead the team both on and off the team. Ezenwa should be the captain this time because of his experience and leadership quality he has shown at FC Ifeanyi Ubah while Jamiu Alimi should be his assistant captain.
The NFF must take preparation very seriously as should the players selected too, as this platform can expose the NPFL stars to scouts and clubs across the globe which will improve the business side of the league. Despite the poor show last year, 50% of the team got deals abroad.
Goalkeepers: Ikechukwu Ezenwa (FC Ifeanyi Ubah), Suraj Ayeleso (Nasarawa United), Ojo Olorunleke (Akwa United).
Defenders: Golbe Elisha (Plateau United), Ifeanyi Nweke (Rivers United), Jamiu Alimi (Kano Pillars), Stephen Eze (FC Ifeanyi Ubah), Samson Gbadebo (Enyimba Int’l), Daniel Itodo (Plateau United), Ebuka Anaekwe (ABS FC)
Midfielders: Ifeanyi Ifeanyi (Akwa United), Chukwuma Onuwa (MFM FC), Dare Ojo (Enyimba Int’l), Rabiu Ali (Kano Pillars), Samuel Chukwudi (Wikki Tourists), Godwin Aguda (Rangers Int’l), Ayobami Junior (Shooting Stars).
Forwards: Stephen Odey (MFM FC), Ibrahim Alhassan (Akwa United), Sikiru Olatunbosun (MFM FC), Sunday Adetunji (Abia Warriors), Mfon Udoh (Enyimba Int’l), Godwin Obaje (FC Ifeanyi Ubah).
Worthy mentions: Mustapha Aliko (Niger Tornadoes), Ernest Governor (ABS FC), Austin Opara (MFM FC), Oche Salefu (Remo Stars), Emeka Atuloma (Rivers United), Adamu Hassan (Nasarawa United), Anthony Okpotu (Lobi Stars), Samuel Mathias (El-kanemi Warriors).