2021 AFCON: Omeruo Not Fazed By Semi Ajayi Challenge (AUDIO)

Super Eagles defender Kenneth Omeruo has welcomed the increased competition for places in the centre of defence as Nigeria gets set to open their 2021 African Cup of Nations qualifying series against the Squirrels of Benin in Uyo on Wednesday.

The Leganes of Spain defender had had to bide his time since breaking into the team in 2013 to command a regular shirt.

In June, he displaced former regular Leon Balogun to cement a place beside William Troost-Ekong as manager Gernot Rohr’s preferred centre-back partnership.

That partnership yielded bronze at the 2019 AFCON in Egypt and looked to be the first-choice pairing for the senior national side.

But having missed the Super Eagles last two games – friendly draws against Ukraine and Brazil – through injury, the 26-year old has seen West Bromwich Albion’s Semi Ajayi emerge in his absence to excel in the centre of defence next to Troost-Ekong in both games.

Ajayi’s emergence presents Rohr with a selection dilemma and he must now choose between a player he cut from his final squads to both the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2019 AFCON in Egypt and the returning Omeruo.

And with club teammate Chidozie Awaziem and Enyimba invitee Ifeanyi Anaemena also lurking in the shadows there appears to be a quality surfeit in the centre back position and Omeruo who won the AFCON in 2013 believes a deluge of quality in that position can only benefit the team.

“Of course, the competition is always welcome,” Omeruo told the media at the team’s pre-match press conference at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium on Tuesday. “The important thing is that we have quality players that can replace anybody at any time and Semi has been part of the team even before the AFCON.”

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“So he’s someone that we know, we’ve trained together everyone can see he’s doing well at his club as well so it’s a good thing for the country to have more than two, three players for each position. So I think the challenge is always good.”

Nigeria open their Group L 2021 AFCON qualifying campaign against the Squirrels of Benin by 5pm on Wednesday, 13 November at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo.