Six observations from Finidi’s first Super Eagles list

The newly appointed coach of the Super Eagles, Finidi George, has sent shockwaves through Nigerian football with his squad selection for the upcoming 2026 World Cup qualifiers against South Africa and Benin Republic. 

While the list retains the core of the team that performed well at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), there are some surprising omissions and intriguing inclusions that suggest a new direction for the national team. 

Here are six key observations from the announced squad:

1. Left-Back conundrum: 

A major talking point is the glaring absence of established left-backs like Zaidu Sanusi, Bruno Onyemaechi, and Jamilu Collins. This opens the door for a potential shift in tactics or a chance for a new player to stake his claim. Calvin Bassey, who can play on the left side of defense, might be entrusted with the responsibility, but his inclusion doesn't necessarily address the lack of a natural left-back. It will be interesting to see how this tactical conundrum unfolds as the qualifiers progress.

2. Coach George's ruthlessness: 

The omission of fringe players like goalkeeper Francis Uzoho and Southampton’s' Joe Aribo raises eyebrows. Uzoho, a regular under previous coaches, might be a casualty of Okoye's impressive form at Udinese. Aribo's absence is more surprising, considering his decent performances for the Saints in the Championship. This ruthless streak by Coach Finidi suggests a clear vision for the team and a willingness to make tough decisions based on current form and future potential.

3. AFCON core retained with fresh faces: 

The core group of players who reached the AFCON final, including Samuel Chukwueze, Alex Iwobi, Victor Osimhen, and Kelechi Iheanacho, remain the backbone of the squad. This continuity provides stability and experience, crucial for navigating the competitive World Cup qualifiers. However, the inclusion of exciting youngsters like Victor Boniface and Fisayo Dele-Bashiru injects fresh blood and attacking options. This blend of experience and youthful exuberance could be a potent recipe for success.

4. NPFL star gets a chance: 

A significant development is the call-up of Sadiq Ismael, a defender from Remo Stars in the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL). This selection acknowledges the growing quality of the domestic league and rewards Sadiq's impressive performances for his club. 

It's a welcome sign for local talents who aspire to represent the national team and could pave the way for more homegrown players to break into the squad in the future.

5. A young and energetic squad: 

With an average age of around 26.29 years, this Super Eagles squad is youthful and possesses immense potential. This young core has the benefit of time to develop and gel together, setting a strong foundation for future tournaments. While some fans might miss the experience of older players, the focus on youth development is a long-term strategy that could pay dividends in the years to come.

6. Maduka Okoye retuns:

Adding intrigue to the goalkeeping department is the return of Maduka Okoye. After a lengthy absence following Nigeria's 1-0 loss to Tunisia in the 2022 AFCON Round of 16, the impressive form of the Udinese shot-stopper sees him back in the national team fold. 

He joins Stanley Nwabali and Ojo Olorunleke to create a competitive goalkeeping trio.

Must win World Cup Qualifier clashes

Nigeria face a critical juncture in their World Cup qualifying campaign as they find themselves winless after two games, languishing third in Group C.

With just two points to their name, the Super Eagles trail both Rwanda and South Africa, who sit ahead with four and three points respectively.

The early stages of the qualifiers have been challenging for Nigeria, who have yet to secure a victory.

Nigerian players who won league title in 2023/24
Photo by Icon Sport

Draws in their opening matches have left them needing to quickly turn their fortunes around to avoid falling further behind in the race for qualification.

Currently, Rwanda lead the group with a strong start, accumulating four points from their opening fixtures.

South Africa follow closely with three points, while Nigeria's two draws have placed them in a precarious position.

The Super Eagles will face South Africa at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo on Friday 7 June, with kickoff at 8 PM. They will then travel to Abidjan to take on Benin Republic at the Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny on Monday 10 June.

Super Eagles' full squad list:

Goalkeepers: Stanley Nwabali (Chippa United, South Africa); Maduka Okoye (Udinese FC, Italy); Ojo Olorunleke (Enyimba FC)

Defenders: Chidozie Awaziem (Boavista FC, Portugal); Bright Osayi-Samuel (Fenerbahce FC, Turkey); Sadiq Ismael (Remo Stars FC); Oluwasemilogo Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion, England); Calvin Bassey (Fulham FC, England); Benjamin Tanimu (Ihefu SC, Tanzania)

Midfielders: Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Raphael Onyedika (Club Brugge, Belgium); Alhassan Yusuf Abdullahi (Royal Antwerp FC, Belgium); Frank Onyeka (Brentford FC, England); Alex Iwobi (Fulham FC, England); Fisayo Dele-Bashiru (Hatayspor, Turkey)

Forwards: Nathan Tella (Bayer Leverkusen, Germany); Victor Osimhen (SSC Napoli, Italy); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Samuel Chukwueze (AC Milan, Italy); Paul Onuachu (Trabzonspor FC, Turkey); Ademola Lookman (Atalanta FC, Italy); Victor Boniface (Bayer Leverkusen, Germany); Terem Moffi (OGC Nice, France)

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Toyosi Afolayan

Toyosi Afolayan is a sports journalist who breathes life into the games we love. He loves to combine insightful analysis with historical background, creating a richer understanding of sports. Afolayan's expertise ranges from captivating narratives to live broadcasts, captivating audiences across platforms like Ojbsport, AllNigeriaSoccer, TVC Entertainment, Bounce Networks, Kwara TV, ICIR, EaglesTracker, and NFF TV. His background in History and International Studies adds depth, revealing the connections between sports, politics, and national identity.