A number of circumstances compel Nigeria to put out a relatively new breed Super Eagles in an international friendly against Ukraine at the Dnipro Arena on Tuesday night.
Long-time midfield enforcer Mikel John Obi retired from international football as curtains drew on the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt, relinquishing the captain’s band. Weeks later, Odion Jude Ighalo, top scorer in the Africa Cup qualifying campaign and at the tournament proper, also put his international boots on the shelf.
Captain Ahmed Musa pulled out of the trip to eastern Europe only days from his flight, as an injury failed to heal as quickly as he expected, and he duly opted to pay more attention to that. His withdrawal followed those of defenders Kenneth Omeruo and Tyronne Ebuehi, midfielder Wilfred Ndidi and forward Henry Onyekuru.
Obi, Ighalo, Musa, Omeruo, Ebuehi and Ndidi were all at the FIFA World Cup finals last year, and Onyekuru only missed the party because of injury.
Given that six of them (except Ebuehi who also suffered a non-fortuitous injury) were also at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt earlier in the summer where Nigeria finished third and with the bronze medals among 24 teams, the squad that will file out on Tuesday is largely a new breed.
However, Technical Adviser Gernot Rohr was not in any way despondent when he addressed the pre-match press conference on Monday.
“This game is a big opportunity for us to begin our build-up towards the 2021 AFCON and the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Some of our key players retired from the team after the last AFCON in Egypt and some others are not here owing to injuries and other issues. We have some new and young players here so it is a good opportunity to see what they can bring to the team. We hope for a good game tomorrow against a very solid team playing at home.”
Stand-in captain William Ekong had this to say: “Ukraine is a strong team with a lot of very good players across Europe. I know a few of those in Italy where I play. This game is definitely going to be very tough but we will give our best and also make it very difficult for them. I believe it will be a very good game.”
Italian referee Paolo Valerie will take charge of proceedings at the 31,000 –capacity arena, with his compatriots Alessandro Costanzo and Stefano Alassio assisting, while Ukrainian Vitaliy Romanov will serve as the fourth official.
Ukraine, like most jurisdictions of the former Soviet Union, broke off from the collapsed mother nation in 1991. Both the Ukraine Football Association and the country’s senior team came into existence also in 1991.
Nigeria and Ukraine have never met at senior level, but a group phase clash at the FIFA U20 World Cup in Poland earlier in the summer ended 1-1. Ukraine eventually won the championship.
A camp source told thenff.com that the young guns are, however, raring to go, seeing the situation as an opportunity to win the heart of Coach Rohr and be considered part of the mainstream going forward.
Germany –based goalkeeper Maduka Okoye is in camp to give Francis Uzoho and Ikechukwu Ezenwa a stiff fight for the number one shirt, while usual suspects Olaoluwa Aina, Chidozie Awaziem, Leon Balogun, Jamilu Collins and William Ekong will try to ward off the challenge of Semi Ajayi (listed as defender) and returnee Bryan Idowu at the rear.
In the middle, Oghenekaro Etebo and Alex Iwobi should be ahead of returnee Anderson Esiti and new boy Joseph Aribo. It remains to be seen how Kelechi Iheanacho will fit into the middle equation.
The fore is brimming with youth and vitality, with Victor Osimhen, Moses Simon, Samuel Chukwueze, Paul Onuachu and Samuel Kalu all available, alongside new birds Joshua Maja and Emmanuel Dennis.