By Olawale Ajimotokan
Azubuike Egwueke’s claim for a place in the squad to the Africa Cup of Nations is threatened following revelation that the coach Stephen Keshi-led technical crew has rated the central defender as an average player.
The choice of players available for selection, particularly in the central defence, is forcing the coaches to have a rethink, less than two months to the Africa Cup of Nations.
Keshi has kept doggedly the faith in the ‘home grown’ partnership of Egwueke and Godfrey Oboabona.
But the combination, without the experience of the aging captain Joseph Yobo, is often derided as “too soft” and "unreliable" for the anticipated task in South Africa.
Reliable Super Eagles sources confided in us Tuesday, that the national crew was no longer sure of Egwueke for South Africa 2013 as he has been identified as the weak link in the team’s backline.
Niger coach Frederic Acosta rated Egwueke as not too good after the Eagles played out a goalless draw against the Menas in a friendly match in Niamey in February.
Acosta warned Keshi that Nigeria would be exposed if they come into course with Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire or Zambia at the Nations Cup, unless they improve on the composition of their defence.
Keshi rose to the player’s defence by quipping he had a back injury after another unconvincing outing against Venezuela in Miami last week.
It was also a direct response to this inconsistent display and need to stabilize the rear guard that prompted Keshi to recall the injury prone Onyekachi Apam, who last saw international action on March 3, 2010, against DR Congo in Abuja.
It is said the Nigerian bench always have jitters whenever Egwueke, who plays for Warri Wolves is either in possession or confronted by an opposing player.
An enraged Keshi reportedly told the defender to either raise his game or be chopped from the team after Nigeria beat Venezuela 3-1.
The former national captain is worried that Egwueke is losing form close to the Nations Cup and particularly when he has been integrated into the structure of the team.
Egwueke has notched up 12 caps and has become an ever present figure for Nigeria since he made his debut with a convincing display against Angola in a friendly match in Abuja on January 11, 2012.
His broad girth coupled with pace, prompted initial comparison with the outstanding Uche Okechukwu and Taribo West.
Nigeria opens their camp in Portugal next month to assess established and new players in friendly matches against Angola, Morocco and Cape Verde before the final team is announced for the Africa Cup of Nations.