Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi
By Duro Ikhazuagbe
The Super Eagles final list of 23 players for the Africa Cup of Nations has been delayed till Wednesday, the final day of submission to the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
The reason is that Super Eagles Head Coach, Stephen Keshi, is still experimenting and wants to use Wednesday’s international friendly with the surprise AFCON qualifier, Cape Verde, to do a final check on the players he has pencilled for the African football fiesta in South Africa.
Tuesday evening, Keshi whose delay in releasing the list has given room to speculations of all sorts, insisted that the one in circulation which has 17 players making their debut at the 2013 AFCON was inaccurate.
“I have heard of a list making the rounds in Nigeria but I want soccer loving Nigerians to ignore the list purportedly issued by me. We will give out the names of the 23-man squad on Wednesday. I plead with Nigerians to have a little bit patient with us because it’s a difficult thing to do,” observed the former Togo and Mali gaffer.
Only four more players are expected to be dropped from the squad that drew 1-1 with the Catalonia Selected team last week. Four others namely, Papa Idris, Henry Uche, Rabiu Ibrahim and Kalu Uche had been sent home last weekend. Kalu had ruled himself out due to injury.
Some of the players from the Nigeria Premier League named in the list Keshi is now refuting include Rangers trio of, Chigozie Agbim, Sunday Mba and Ejike Uzoenyi, Warri Wolves stopper Azubuike Egwuekwe, Godfrey Oboabona from Sunshine Stars and Gabriel Reuben of Kano Pillars.
Although the list may not be too far away from that expected from Keshi today, it is a remarkable improvement on the final squads to both the 2008 and 2010 Nations Cups, where no player from the domestic league made the final cut.
Keshi has worked with the home-based players since December 2011, a month after he replaced his friend and former team mate, Samson Siasia.
The leagues of England, Spain, Turkey, Russia and Italy have two players each, while there are three players who are based in Israel including two goalkeepers.
ADO Den Haag defender Kenneth Omeruo at 19 years and 2 months (born October 17, 1993) is the youngest member of the squad, while Joseph is the oldest at 32 years and 4 months (born September 6, 1980).
The average age of the squad is about 26 years. The 23-man squad are made up of three goalkeepers, seven defenders, seven midfielders and six strikers.
Meanwhile, Sports Minister, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi who arrived Faro to watch Nigeria’s international friendly with Cape Verde who stopped Cameroun from qualifying for the AFCON 2013, has thumbed up the coaches and players.
“So far I’m impressed with the tactical approach of the coaches and I see this collection of players doing us proud at the Nations Cup,” he said.
The Minister insisted that the Eagles have raised the hopes of every Nigerian by their performance in the game against Catalonia.
“We hope it will be the same spirit that the team will take to South Africa for the Nations Cup proper,” Eagles Media Officer, Ben Alaiya quoted the minister as telling the coaches.
The minister did not formally address the players after last night’s training but assured that he will do so after the team’s game against Cape Verde, obviously with a message from President Goodluck Jonathan.