ALEXANDRIA – Super Eagles defender William Troost-Ekong says he’s “indifferent” about who he plays with in the centre of defence for Nigeria following the decision of head coach Gernot Rohr to pair the Udinese defender with Kenneth Omeruo ahead of regular defensive partner Leon Balogun in the Eagles’ opening 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) victory over Burundi on Saturday.
The 25-year-old has formed a strong and towering partnership with Balogun following their first game together as a pair against Chad in 2016. That partnership which fans refer to as the “Oyibo Wall” – a play on their light skin and towering height, has come to be Nigeria’s first choice defensive partnership with both players having played together 22 times for the Super Eagles.
Within that stretch of games as a pair, the Super Eagles kept 9 clean sheets, won 12 times and lost six games in total.
However, with Balogun having had an underwhelming season at new club side Brighton and Hove Albion for whom he played just over eight hundred minutes in eight league and two cup appearances, there had been plenty of clamour for the German-born player who turns 31 on Friday, to be replaced by Omeruo as Troost-Ekong’s partner at the AFCON.
25-year old Omeruo, one of three players in the present squad with experience of playing in the Nations Cup having been part of Stephen Keshi’s 2013 AFCON winning side in South Africa, has played with Troost-Ekong either as a duo or as part of a back three with Balogun on fifteen occasions prior to the game against Burundi.
Omeruo and Troost-Ekong’s partnership has yielded eight wins, three losses and just four clean sheets.
With a stellar season in Spain with Leganes where he was on loan from parent club Chelsea and for whom he featured 31 times in all competitions behind him, Rohr decided on a centre-back pairing of Omeruo and Troost-Ekong for Nigeria’s first game at the Nations Cup in six years and Omeruo was imperious in defence as the Super Eagles battled to a hard-fought 1-0 win over The Swallows courtesy of a 77th minute Odion Ighalo goal from a cheeky Ola Aina assist at the Alexandria Stadium.
And ahead of Nigeria’s second Group B game against Guinea on Wednesday, Troost-Ekong says he has no preference over whom he pairs and feels that his partnership with Omeruo at the heart of the Eagles’ defence is no different from his regular partnership with Balogun.
The Udinese of Italy defensive stalwart believes having the quality of three good centre defenders available to choose from can only be a positive thing for the team.
“It’s the same I think, Kenneth is a very good player he did very well in Spain this year,” Troost-Ekong told busybuddiesng.com in an exclusive chat at the Helnan Palestine Hotel base of the team in Alexandria.
“Of course, I’ve played with Leon the last two years a lot of times so we are used to each other so to me it’s indifferent. I think Leon and Kenneth can play together as well and I think it’s good we have these options and I’m happy to play with anyone.”
It remains to be seen what defensive partnership Rohr decides to go with for the 3.30pm kickoff against Guinea at the Alexandria Stadium on Wednesday.