The Super Eagles could seal qualification to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in their match against South Africa on Saturday at the FNB Stadium, Johannesburg. South Africa also have sights on qualification, placed second on the log with a point behind Nigeria. The game also represents a bit of a grudge match, with the Super Eagles keen on a revenge after the humbling first-leg loss in Uyo. Here are five players set to sparkle in the qualifier.
With the exclusion of Ogenyi Onazi and John Mikel Obi from the South Africa game, the suspension of Wilfred Ndidi and the unlikelihood of Gernot Rohr deploying Oghenekaro Etebo as the lone defensive midfielder in the fixture away at the FNB Stadium, the mostly-benched John Ogu could get a rare opportunity to impress.
It bears the same feel as the dead-rubber against Algeria where Ogu scored a belter from range. Unfortunately, the game was adjudged forfeited because Nigeria fielded an ineligible player.
The powerhouse has proven to be an effective player at the base of the midfield with his passing range, tackling and an anticipation that helps covers a slight lack of mobility. He also has the ability to dictate the tempo of the game from deep, an ability that will be needed in a game played at the high altitude FNB.
Probably the latest kid Super Eagles hipsters predict as the next big thing. The Villareal winger, caught a few eyes, first with his displays in the Villareal B team before he transferred his brilliance to Javier Calleja’s team. The pacy winger was rewarded with his maiden call-up for the game against South Africa and the friendly against Uganda. Chukwueze posseses pace, trickery and an offensive threat from the wings that Rohr could call on from the bench against tired South African legs. While the precocious talent is still wet around the ears, his exuberance could be the perfect tool to wreck havoc against the South African defence.
After his remarkable performance especially in the second leg of the qualifier against Libya in the central role he has always craved, the fixture against South Africa will present another opportunity to further settle into the role. His vision, passing and movement in the hole has helped the chance creation capabilities of the squad and has ensured the central striker isn’t any longer isolated.
The on-loan Everton forward has struggled to convince Gernot Rohr when he was handed the opportunity by the coach. Perhaps, it informed the decision to drop him from the list of invites to the standby list. Fate, however has handed Onyekuru another opportunity as the Galatasaray forward was called up to replace injured striker Odion Ighalo. While the forward isn’t strictly a like-for-like replacement positionally, Onyekuru’s versatility means he can play across the front line.
Onyekuru bagged a brace in his club’s last match against Kayserispor, heading into the South Africa game, such form might be what he needs to impress with his stated talent.
Despite the increased call for the drop of Balogun due to his lean minutes at Brighton, the centre-back remains a fine defender, perhaps, Nigeria’s best. Against, Stuart Baxter’s men, the former Mainz defender will be keen to show why he should remain at the heart of the Super Eagles defence. His calm, reading of the game and leadership in the defence was missed in the first leg when South Africa defeated Nigeria with the defense particularly shambolic. Alongside William Troost-Ekong, the Oyinbo wall will hope to be impregnable.