Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr has hinted he will hand debuts to a number of newly called up players for the friendly against African champions Algeria on Friday.
Nigeria’s squad for the double friendly against Algeria and Tunisia features eight players who have been called up for the first time and Rohr has hinted that a sizeable number of them could take to the field against the Algeria.
Goalkeeper Matthew Yakubu (SKF Sered, Slovakia), defenders Kevin Akpoguma (Hoffenheim, Germany) and Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto, Portugal) as well as midfielders Frank Onyeka (FC Midtjylland, Denmark) and Samson Tijani (TSV Hartberg, Austria) are joining up with the senior national team for the first time.
Striker Cyril Dessers (KRC Genk, Belgium) and wide forward Chidera Ejuke (CSKA Moscow, Russia) also received maiden call ups.
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While Rohr was coy about which players will take to the field from the start, he revealed Porto full back Sanusi will definitely start at left back to nullify the threat of former Africa Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez.
Manchester City winger Mahrez scored a last gasp free kick to knock Nigeria out of the 2019 AFCON in the semifinals and Rohr who revealed he has been impressed with Zaidu in training, has backed the full back to contain the tricky Algerian winger.
“We have the other new defender Sanusi at left back he will start the game. He is a very strong and quick defender you know we have Mahrez on the right side and we need to be very very strong there,” Rohr revealed during a prematch conference held via Zoom from the team’s Austria camp on Thursday.
“We are satisfied with what he is doing in the training sessions and he has moved to Porto and is one of two players in the Champions League along with Paul Onyeka of Midtjylland who is a defensive midfielder.”
Speaking about Onyeka who has made the team with regulars Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo and Joe Aribo all missing through injury, Rohr revealed the Denmark-based defensive midfielder has impressed the backroom staff in training.
“He is a defensive midfielder with good presence and always available to get the ball and play forward and participate. We have a very good impression of him also.”
The Eagles were handed a boost when news broke that Germany-born centre back Kevin Akpoguma has been cleared by FIFA to represent Nigeria.
Akpoguma had visited the team’s Austria camp to familiarise himself with the coaches and players when the news broke and now finds himself in line for an earlier than expected debut.
Rohr, however, refused to confirm if the 25-year-old will start but said the centre back will “surely play”.
“There’s Kevin Akpoguma and we are very happy because it was not easy to get him because he played a lot of games for the German youth teams,” Rohr said. “We’ve been in touch for two years and now he has finally decided to come with us.
“He will surely play although I don’t know if he will start the game because it is his first game and it is not easy for a new player to start such a game but he is a very important new player for us, we can always play with three at the back with him.”
With Nigeria’s three main goalkeepers missing from the squad due to a combination of injury trouble and inactivity, Rohr hinted the 21-year-old will also see some action.
“Yakubu did very well in the training session, he is progressing well and playing regularly for his club in Slovakia. Our goalkeeper coach says he is on the right way, and he has good future also,” Rohr said.
“[He has] strong legs and plays well with the feet he’s not so tall like the other ones but he’s jumping very well. I think hebwill be tomorrow, first or second goalkeeper and perhaps in one of the two games, we will be able to see him.”
The Franco-German tactician who will face off against Algeria for the fourth time as Eagles manager reveled in the strength in depth offered by the newly called up players, and joked that their quality has brought him a selection headache.
He also revealed that one of Genk teammates Paul Onuachu and Cyriel Dessers will start in the striker’s role.
“We have Ejuke, a winger who is doing very well and can play on both sides and now we have five wingers who are very strong,” he said.
“We have already [Simon] Kalu, [Samuel] Chukwueze, [Ahmed] Musa Simon and Ejuke now. So you can imagine that it is not easy to make the choice for me because they are all doing very, very well but we have to watch that they are doing at their clubs at the moment and also with us but we are happy about it.
“Another new player is Dessers, who is a striker who is moving a lot, who has good shooting also, we had some shooting exercises and he did very well so there will be competition between him and [Paul] Onuachu about who will start tomorrow.”
The Super Eagles play Algeria on Friday, at the Worthersee Stadion in Klagenfurt with another clash against another North African side Tunisia four days later at the Jacques LeMans Arena.
Both games will kickoff at 7:30pm Nigerian time.