By Olawale Ajimotokan
Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi has hinted that Shola Ameobi and a number of unlikely players could be named in Nigeria’s final squad to the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa next year.
Keshi told reporters he will announce on Christmas Day, the list of foreign-based professionals, to join the home-based players for the last phase of camping in Faro, Portugal before the 23- man squad is announced.
The national coach admitted his soft spot for Newcastle forward, Ameobi, who made his first and only international appearance in the friendly match against Venezuela in Miami. He also expressed his delight to see two other players, Gabriel Ruben and Fegoir Ogude reunite with the national team after staying out of the spotlight following long injury lay off.
Keshi said that against Venezuela, Ameobi brought competition and experience to the Eagles as he played as if he had been a part of the national team set up for several years.
He similarly said he was happy with the progress made by central midfielder, Ogude and Ruben, both who have been training with the local based players in Abuja.
The versatile Ogude last played in the friendly match against Ghana in London in October 2011, while Kano Pilllars’ Ruben, scored in his last competitive action against Malawi in Blantyre in a World Cup qualifying match that ended 1-1.
“Ameobi brought experience to the team, while Ruben showed that we really missed him. He is ready to stake a place and I hope he is in good health before we travel to Faro. I also like Ogude’s commitment as his wife only recently put to bed. He is very good and focused player,” Keshi said.
Ruben, who was the first choice for the central midfield holding position in the absence of Mikel John Obi, said he was 100 per cent fit of injury and set to make the squad to South Africa.
“I am back and better. The injury can’t stop me from being a part of the Nations Cup campaign. I am not afraid to compete with the foreign-based players in Faro. It is no big deal as they all started here as ‘home-based’ before they went to Europe,” he said.
Keshi, who said letters of invitation had been sent to all the foreign-based players to arrive camp in time, recalled that officials were having challenges regarding the release of Ike Uche as his club, Villareal which is in the Spanish second division, is still playing matches as against clubs in the first division which are about to embark on winter recess.
He also said that though the proposed friendly against Catalonia in the first week of January is yet to be finalised, he would present his best squad for the match against the Spanish separatist side.