The Super Eagles are on the cusp of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. A win against the Chipolopolo of Zambia on October 7 at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium Uyo will confirm Nigeria’s appearance at next summer’s World Cup, but any other result will prolong the two horse race to the last matchday-6 of Group B in November.
Completesportsnigeria.com’s IZUCHUKWU OKOSI in this piece looks at the Super Eagles players who can hurt the Zambians in Uyo.
ODION IGHALO: Striker – Changchun Yatai, China
Super Eagles striker Odion Ighalo was key in the Nigeria’s home and away World Cup qualifiers against Cameroon in September which the Eagles won 4-0 and drew 1-1 respectively. He scored one of Nigeria’s goals in the four-goal rout in Uyo on September 1.
Ighalo has so far scored 12 goals (34% of the club’s total of 35 goals in 23 league appearances at press time) for his Chinese Super League side Changchun Yatai with 2,053 minutes of playing time to his credit.
Ighalo’s form will continuously be a source of concern for players and the coaches of the Zambian national side.
The striker will be hard pressed to get more international goals for Nigeria after four goals to his name in 12 international games.
The striker can also assist as he can score in equal measure and has got three assists this season meaning his partnership with the other attacking players will cause all sorts of problems to the Chipolopolo defence. He also likes to dart to the wings which will keep the Zambian defenders busy all through the game.
Dribbling is one of Ighalo’s biggest assets and his shots per goal have been encouraging. He will surely be massive against Zambia, he only needs to avoid holding on to the ball for too long.
VICTOR MOSES: Wing-Back: Chelsea, England
Chelsea right wing-back Victor Moses has been Nigeria’s most influential player in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign
Moses scored a brace against Algeria in their first leg clash in November 2016 and repeated the feat against African champions Cameroon in Uyo on September 1, 2017.
Given how he breaks at pace and gets into good positions, it will not be hard to fathom the Nigerian being a thorn in Zambia’s flesh on October 7.
Perhaps the question is: how many goals will he score?
OGHENEKARO ETEBO: Midfielder – Fereinse, Portugal
Much of the attention in the Nigerian midfield would naturally be on captain John Mikel Obi, but the league form of Fereinse of Portugal midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo could count for something in the clash against the Zambians.
The player has scored three goals in six top flight matches in Portugal this season.
The former Warri Wolves player has played eight international matches for Nigeria. He was not involved in Nigeria’s game against Cameroon at home, but only came off the bench in the reverse fixture in Yaounde.
That is already a reason to prove to Gernot Rhor that he deserves to play more for the Super Eagles. Etebo is a midfielder good at driving forward with the ball and hitting the ball hard. His impact will be felt the more if handed more playing time than he got against the African champions.
LEON BALOGUN: Defender -Mainz, Germany
Centre back Leon Balogun has played three games so far for his German Bundesliga side FSV Mainz, and thankfully, was not injured in their 4-0 defeat against Bayern Munich on September 16 after some time on the sidelines receiving treatment for a foul.
Balogun’s energy and probing runs deep from the Nigerian end of the pitch against Cameroon was exciting to see and he could be a genuine threat to the Copper Bullets, especially from dead ball situations.
The towering defender brings out the best in former U-23 star William Troost Ekong. His defensive astuteness will hopefully not desert him when it matters most on October 7.
AHMED MUSA: Forward – Leicester City, England)
Somewhat forgotten as his club form for Leicester City have dipped, Eagles forward Ahmed Musa could be the trump card that coach Rhor deploys against Zambia especially in the second half.
The Zambian defenders will predictably focus on the likes of Victor Moses who by the way is perhaps the most important player that the Eagles have had in the 2018 World Cup qualification. No doubt.
That is exactly where an Emmanuel Amuneke-esque player hitherto unheralded or deprived of ample playing time will rise and punish the Zambians. Remember the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations final against Zambia in Tunisia?
Musa may be the ex factor in the game and thereby resurrect his fast fading impact in the Super Eagles with a splendid show in two weeks’ time.
JOHN MIKEL OBI: Midfielder – Tianjin TEDA, China
The captain of Nigeria. John Mikel obi needs no introduction and what he brings to the Super Eagles is magic.
Mikel Obi was solely missed in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against South Africa but his presence
positive vibes to the team versus the Indomitable Lions.
The skipper’s availability alone for the match will be bad news to the Zambians. Mikel will bring the leadership and charisma that the opponents will revere.
Every team goes to war with their best warriors, Mikel’s passes and ball retention will be key factors that could shoot down the Chipolopolo backline. Mikel scores the odd goals and his contributions will be massive.
ALEX IWOBI: Midfielder – Arsenal, England
Arsenal attacking midfielder cum forward Alex Iwobi scored his first international goal for Nigeria in the reverse fixture against Zambia in Ndola in the 2-1 win on 9 October 2016.
Iwobi brings creativity and also exuberance to the national team just as he does whenever he is given the opportunity at Arsenal.
Iwobi was not involved in the Cameroon double headers due to injury but is expected to be back for the match in Uyo on October 7.
It will be an uphill struggle for the Zambians to pin the skilfully Iwobi down to a position as he is used to drifting wide every now and then. Iwobi’s contributions are expected to focal in an anticipated victory for the Super Eagles.
Hopefully another October date against the Zambians will be a good outing for Iwobi and the Eagles.
KELECHI IHEANACHO: Forward – Leicester City, England
Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho has had a decent record for the Nigerian national team so far since his debut on 13 November 2015 in a second round, first leg fixture of the 2018 World Cup qualifier against Swaziland which ended 0-0.
Iheanacho has gone on to score seven goals for the Super Eagles in 12 appearances and the former youth international who only played 39 minutes in total against Cameroon (29 at home, and 10 away) may find himself getting into the starting lineup or at least more playing time against the Zambians.
Iheanacho’s powerful left foot packed with canon, and his ability to pop up at vintage positions to receive the final ball from teammates will be massive when Zambia come to town.
The former Manchester City forward was credited by the Premier League to having the best goals-to-minutes ratio of any player in the English Premier League as at December 2016 with 12 strikes in 96 minutes. That impressive CV could be playing out for him in the Nigerian set up and having more minutes against Zambians could help in enhancing that.
Iheanacho could simply hurt the Zambians with his goals appetite for club and country.