Osimhen: Ndidi backs other Super Eagles strikers to shine in superstar’s absence

Nigeria and Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi has backed the Super Eagles’ other strike options to step up in Victor Osimhen’s absence.

Osimhen is currently Nigeria’s most potent source of goals but will not partake in the upcoming 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against South Africa and Benin due to an injury.

The Napoli forward’s absence leaves a huge void in Finidi George’s team, who will play their two qualifying matches within the space of four days in the second week of June. Nigeria will host Bafana Bafana in what is expected to be a tricky test at the Akwa Ibom Stadium in Uyo on June 7.

The Super Eagles will then take on Benin at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium in neighbouring Ivory Coast as they look to recover from their poor start to the World Cup qualifiers. Nigeria are currently third in Group C of the CAF World Cup qualifiers, a point below South Africa and two more behind leaders Rwanda after two rounds of matches.

Ndidi backs other Super Eagles strikers to shine in Osimhen’s absence
Photo by Icon Sport

The West Africans had a sluggish start to the qualifying campaign and garnered just two points from their opening two matches after surprisingly drawing with both Zimbabwe and Lesotho. However, they have been one of the best teams in Africa since the start of 2024, having finished second at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) three months ago.

Nigeria’s performance in the AFCON, where they lost just once (in the final) and kept four clean sheets in seven matches, was a far cry from their insipid displays in the months before. Currently ranked as the third-best team on the continent, the Super Eagles will be heading into the World Cup qualifiers with renewed hopes and in better form than they were in November when they faced Zimbabwe and Lesotho.

Victor Osimhen withdraws from World Cup qualifiers against South Africa, Benin

Finidi George’s side has, however, been hit by a big blow following Victor Osimhen’s injury. The Napoli striker was part of the Super Eagles squad for the games against South Africa and Benin but later pulled out after his injury was deemed worse than first thought.

The 25-year-old has been battling niggling injuries in recent weeks and missed Napoli’s final two Serie A matches against Fiorentina and Lecce. While not much information has been given about the extent of his injury, a statement from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) confirmed Osimhen has been ruled out for at least four weeks.

The NFF also announced that highly-rated Enugu Rangers defender Kenneth Igboke has been handed a late call-up to replace Osimhen in the Super Eagles squad for the World Cup qualifiers against South Africa and Benin next month.

“Camp update: Africa Player of the Year, Victor Osimhen is injured and out for 4 weeks. Super Eagles’ Coach Finidi has called up Enugu Rangers’ left back Kenneth Igboke for the WC qualifiers against South Africa and Benin Republic,” the NFF said.

Wilfred Ndidi believes Super Eagles have enough quality to step in for Osimhen

Napoli have often struggled in Osimhen’s absence and drew their last two matches against Fiorentina and Lecce when the Nigeria international was unavailable, but Ndidi believes the Super Eagles will be fine without the striker.

Finidi’s 23-man squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers has seven forwards. Bayer Leverkusen’s Victor Boniface is the most prominent name among the striking options and is joined by OGC Nice’s Terem Moffi and Trabzonspor’s Paul Onuachu. Ndidi’s Leicester City teammate Kelechi Iheanacho is also included, while Atalanta’s Europa League hero Ademola Lookman, Bayer Leverkusen’s Nathan Tella and AC Milan’s Samuel Chukwueze make up the list of strikers invited for the upcoming assignments.

Ndidi believes although Osimhen is a world-class footballer and will be missed, Nigeria boasts enough attacking talents to make up for his absence. He, therefore, called on the other attacking options in the squad to rise to the occasion when the Super Eagles face South Africa and Benin.

Ndidi backs other Super Eagles strikers to shine in Osimhen’s absence
Photo by Icon Sport

“Osimhen is a great player, he’s a hustler. I call him hustler because he plays like a street footballer with strength and strong mentality. There is no doubt that we are going to miss him. He’s quite important to the team because he drives the team forward and he has great impact,” Ndidi said when he visited the New Maracana Complex in Ajegunle, Lagos, as quoted by The Nation.

“However, we have many great strikers who can bring their own dynamics into the team and make an impact. It’s all about the team. This is not the time to begin to think about him not being around but to go out there and win the matches and wish him the best as he recovers from his injury.”

‘Nigerians will see the best of Finidi George’ – Wilfred Ndidi

Meanwhile, Ndidi also threw his weight behind Finidi George to lead Nigeria to success. The 53-year-old first took charge of the Super Eagles in March as a caretaker coach but has since been handed the job permanently.

Finidi currently boasts a record of one win and one defeat from the two international friendlies he took charge of in March but is viewed as one of the most enterprising indigenous coaches with a high ceiling. The former Ajax and Mallorca forward promised that Nigeria would play attacking football under him during his unveiling and also challenged himself to qualify the team for the World Cup and win the next AFCON.

Ndidi, who helped Leicester to gain promotion to the Premier League from the English Championship last season, has described Finidi as a great coach, insisting Nigerians are yet to see the best of the Super Eagles head coach.

“Finidi is a great coach. I was with him in Morocco during the friendly matches, which was quite difficult for him because he was all alone. Now that he has the full complement of his assistants, we are going to see the best of him with the support of all Nigerians and the football federation,” Ndidi stated.

Who will occupy Super Eagles’ no.9 role in Osimhen’s absence?

Meanwhile, Finidi will have to make a decision over who will replace Osimhen in the team for the games against South Africa and Benin. The Napoli striker would have started if he were available but his injury means Nigeria will be without him for both matches.

Should Finidi choose to go with a three-man attack as he did in the friendlies against Ghana and Mali in March, then Victor Boniface would be the most likely option for the centre-forward role. The 23-year-old enjoyed an impressive debut campaign in Germany, where he scored 21 goals and provided 10 assists as Leverkusen won the double.

Although he is yet to establish himself at the international level, having only made his Super Eagles debut in September 2023 and also missed the AFCON due to injury, Boniface seems to be the most viable replacement for Osimhen. The Leverkusen forward is a completely different profile to Osimhen but dribbles better, links up better and also guarantees goals.

Alternatively, Finidi could opt for Onuachu, who has equally been impressive in the Turkish Superlig since joining Trabzonspor on loan from Southampton. The 30-year-old was involved in 17 goals and four assists in the just-ended season and would be a good fit for the centre-forward role.

Terem Moffi, who reached 50 Ligue 1 goals a few weeks ago, is another player who can replace Osimhen through the middle. The other attacking options in the Super Eagles squad, although they can adapt to the no.9 role, are more suited to the flanks. Lookman has locked down the left wing, while one of Tella or Ihenacho would likely occupy the right wing position.

Chuhwueze would’ve been a viable option for the right-wing too, but the AC Milan star has had fitness issues in recent weeks and missed the club’s matches against Torini and Salernitana through injury. The bottom line, though, is that Finidi has an array of talented forwards to pick from and Osimhen’s absence shouldn’t be felt too much when Nigeria take on South Africa and Benin.

Osimhen: Ndidi backs other Super Eagles strikers to shine in superstar’s absence
Emmanuel Ayamga

Emmanuel Ayamga is a Ghanaian journalist with a little over five years of experience writing about African football.

His articles and features have been published in renowned news media like Pulse Ghana, The Guardian, DW, Al Jazeera and Sportskeeda. His bylines can also be found in the UK journals World Soccer Magazine and These Football Times.