Super Eagles: Injury concerns ahead of World Cup qualifiers

Super Eagles' head coach George Finidi is currently sweating over the fitness of some key players after naming his squad for the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers next month.

The 53-year-old announced a 23-man squad last week for the upcoming qualifying matches against South Africa and Benin but he would have to do without a few regulars and would also hope some also recover in time for the matches on June 7 and June 10, respectively.

Finidi George's assistants
Photo by NFF media

With Nigeria in third place in Group C, Finidi would have hoped to have everyone available to field a full-strength side against Bafana Bafana and the Cheetahs of Benin. Having failed to win against Lesotho and Zimbabwe in their previous qualifying matches, the upcoming encounters against South Africa and Benin are must-wins for Finidi and his charges.

Super Eagles players definitely out

There are some regulars who have been out for a long time and will probably not play any football until next season. FC Nantes winger Moses Simon's season came to an abrupt end during Nigeria's international friendly against Mali in the last international window held in Morocco.

The unfortunate incident occurred in the 33rd minute of the match when Simon collided with Mali's goalkeeper while challenging for the ball but came off second best. The collision was severe, resulting in Simon being unable to continue the game. Medical staff promptly attended to him on the pitch before he was carried off.

Following his exit, Nigeria's coach had to make a quick substitution, bringing in Cyril Dessers to replace the injured winger. Further medical examinations revealed that Simon had suffered a broken fibula, an injury that requires significant recovery time. The diagnosis effectively ruled him out for the remainder of the season. The injury not only impacted Simon personally, but also poses a substantial setback for the Super Eagles.

Left-back Zaidu Sanusi, who plies his trade in Portugal with FC Porto, is another player who is definitely ruled out for the South Africa and Benin games.

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Photo by Icon Sport

Sanusi suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in February during a league game against CF Estrela, and his season has been cut off since then. He was fouled in the 32nd minute and could not continue the game, and it was later diagnosed as an ACL injury. This means Sanusi, who was part of the Super Eagles team at the last Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast, will miss the rest of the season, and Nigeria’s World Cup qualifiers in June. Empoli’s Tyronne Ebuehi is another player who will miss the upcoming qualifiers.

Though not a regular in the last 18 months, he has been reliable when called upon. Ebuehi suffered the injury in March, which has kept him out of action since then. The 28-year-old sustained the injury during Empoli’s Serie A match against Bologna. Empoli announced that the Nigerian defender had suffered a partial tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, which has ruled him out for the season.

Ebuehi has had a torrid time with injuries in the last three years. Finidi George will also rue the absence of his captain William Troost-Ekong when the team converges for the World Cup qualifiers.

Boost for Super Eagles as Troost-Ekong returns to training ahead of World Cup qualifiers
Photo by Icon Sport

He managed to play throughout the AFCON tournament with the injury and was even voted the Player of the Tournament. The 30-year-old went under the knife for an injury he sustained at the Africa Cup of Nations in February, which ruled him out for the remainder of PAOK’s season.

He underwent a successful surgery after suffering a ruptured biceps femoris in his right leg. Even though he has returned to training at the club, Troost-Ekong has not regained match fitness and won’t be available for the Super Eagles qualifiers next month.

Victor Osimhen, Nathan Tella pull out of Super Eagles squad for World Cup qualifiers

Victor Osimhen, Nathan Tella withdraw from Super Eagles squad for World Cup qualifiers

Another big blow for the Super Eagles is the absence of Victor Osimhen due to injury. The Napoli striker has struggled with injuries since representing Nigeria at the AFCON in the Ivory Coast. Osimhen missed his country's friendlies against Ghana and Mali in March and will again be unavailable for a second successive international break.

The 25-year-old was initially named in Finidi George’s squad for the World Cup qualifiers but later pulled out after failing to recover in time. Having missed Napoli’s final two games of the season against Fiorentina and Lecce, Finidi was hoping that the reigning African Footballer of the Year would be fit for the matches against South Africa and Benin.

However, Osimhen is set to spend the next month on the sidelines, with Enugu Rangers left-back Kenneth Igboke replacing him in the Super Eagles squad.

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

Meanwhile, Bayern Leverkusen star Nathan Tella has also withdrawn from the squad and will, therefore, play no part in the matches against Bafana Bafana and the Cheetahs. The NFF said the 24-year-old, who won the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal with Leverkusen in the just-ended season, has excused himself from the squad citing personal reasons. Ibrahim Olawoyin, who plays in Turkey for Caykur Rizespor, has since taken Tella’s place in the squad.

“WCQ Camp Update: Nathan Tella of Bayer Leverkusen has excused himself from the upcoming WCQ matches due to family reasons. Coach Finidi George has now called up Ibrahim Olawoyin of Caykur Rizespor of Turkey,” the NFF’s statement added.

Osimhen and Tella’s absence from the upcoming World Cup qualifiers comes as a huge blow to Nigeria, who are in desperate need of points to salvage their qualification hopes. The Super Eagles are winless in Group C of the CAF World Cup qualifiers and currently sit in third place behind Rwanda and South Africa. They will, however, now be without two of their most in-form players. Osimhen, despite his injury woes, still ended the season with 17 goals and four assists. Tella was also instrumental in Leverkusen’s drive towards winning the double, as he contributed seven goals and six assists in 42 matches.

Osimhen’s absence will be felt more, though, as he boast a phenomenal record for the national team, having impressively scored 21 goals in 35 appearances for the Super Eagles. Tella hasn’t been part of the national team setup for some time but his form at club level means he would have been a valuable addition to the team.

In a race against time to make it

Injury ends Chukwueze’s season, winger a doubt for World Cup qualifiers in June
Photo by Icon Sport

AC Milan’s Samuel Chukwueze is another player who is injured and is in a race against time to be available for the World Cup qualifying matches against South Africa and Benin. The winger was withdrawn at half-time during Milan’s 5-1 Serie A game against Cagliari on May 11 and hasn't kicked a ball ever since.

According to reports from Italy, Chukwueze suffered some discomfort in his left thigh, and after more checks, it was revealed that he had suffered a first-degree injury to the biceps femoris muscle of his left thigh.

It remains to be seen whether he will recover in time to be selected for the qualifiers, but the fact that Finidi named him in his squad suggests the Super Eagles boss is confident of Chukwueze playing a part in the qualifiers.

Finidi also has a bit of good news in his hands as Boavista’s Bruno Onyemaechi, who was initially ruled out for the rest of the season has made a return to the pitch. He was named in Boavista's starting XI in their Primera League game, as they drew 2-2 with Vizela.

Finidi will be pleased with this development as the left side of defence is a bit depleted with Zaidu's absence even though Ola Aina can also slot there. Onyemaechi's return to fitness would delight Finidi, but the games against Bafana Bafana and Benin have come too early for the left-back, who has been left out of Nigeria's squad for the upcoming assignments.

Finidi needs to start on a high

Under former coach Jose Peseiro, the Super Eagles were only able to muster two points from six after drawing with Lesotho and Zimbabwe in their first two games.

It was a result that drew the ire of fans with some sections of the media calling for Peseiro’s head.

Even though a second-place finish in the Africa Cup of Nations has calmed frayed nerves, Nigeria will need to get good results in the next batch of games.

Bafana Bafana will be Nigeria’s next opponent in the qualifiers next month, which will be Finidi’s official bow.

A good result for him will go a long way in winning Nigerians to his corner, while anything else will set the alarm bells ringing.

The Super Eagles are third in Group C of the African qualifiers with two points.

Rwanda are surprise leaders in the group with South Africa in second place.

Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Benin follow suit respectively.

Super Eagles: Injury concerns ahead of World Cup qualifiers
Andrew Randa

Andrew Randa is a veteran Nigerian sports journalist with over 20 years of experience covering the beautiful game across Africa. Andrew served as a Media Officer for Nigeria's U-20 Men's National Team for three years, offering a unique perspective on the future stars of Nigerian football.

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