Abuja – Former Flying Eagles Assistant Coach Nduka Ugbade and ex-international Emmanuel Babayaro on Wednesday lauded the calibre of players invited for the Oct. 7 Super Eagles clash with Zambia.
The two ex-internationals said in Abuja in separate interviews that the players called up are good enough to beat any team.
They said the fact the players were in the team which beat African champions Cameroon on Sept. 1 shows that a team was already evolving ahead of future international competitions.
NAN reports that Gernot Rohr, the Super Eagles’ Head Coach, had on Tuesday released a 23-man list of players for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Zambia in Uyo.
While speaking, Ugbade particularly commended the inclusion of defender Leon Balogun, team captain Mikel Obi and Victor Moses in the team.
He however said nothing must be taken for granted in the Eagles’ quest to pick the group’s sole World Cup ticket.
“I am sure I was not the only Nigerian who was close to having heart attack when Moses went down and clutched his knee when his club Chelsea played against Arsenal on Sept.17.
“I was particularly worried, given Moses’ recent performance for Nigeria and how important he has become to the national team.
“But, thankfully, he shook off the knock and subsequently had a very good game.
“In plain language, Moses has missed too many recent Nigeria games and the team has suffered without him. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember the last time he had a poor game.
“It will be interesting to see him again combine well with Odion Ighalo who also likes to dart to the wings, which will keep the Zambian defenders busy all through the game,” Ugbade said.
The former Golden Eaglets captain said Mikel’s passes and ball retention would be key factors which could help to bring down the Chipolopolo backline.
“He (Mikel) scores the odd goals and his contributions will be massive, while Balogun is another player the Super Eagles cannot afford to do without against Zambia.
“His energy and probing runs deep from the Nigerian end of the pitch against Cameroon was exciting to see and he could be a genuine threat to the Copper Bullets, especially from dead-ball situations.
“The towering defender brings out the best in William Troost-Ekong, a former under-23 star. His defensive astuteness will hopefully not desert him when it matters most on Oct. 7,” Ugbade said.
Emmanuel Babayaro, on his part, said he could not fault coach Rohr’s list as there were no major changes, except for some few inclusions to the team.
Babayaro noted that the inclusion of Hull City’s Olaoluwa Aina, and the home-based duo of Ifeanyi Ifeanyi and Afeez Aremu, to the 23 man team list was a welcome development.
NAN reports that Ifeanyi and Aremu were part of the Super Eagles B team which finished as runners-up at the just-ended WAFU Cup of Nations in Ghana.
“The one major surprise, aside Dele Ajiboye, is the pushing out of Dele Alampasu and full back Tyronne Ebuehi from the main list.
“In my opinion, Aina has an edge over Ebuehi because of his physical style of play, an area where Ebuehi is yet to convince Rohr, although he is technically sound and extremely quick in turning defence into attack.
“Even though Rohr still views Shehu Abdullahi as his first-choice right-back, I think Aina will indeed give Abdullahi a strong fight for the team’s right back position,” the former Olympic team player said.
He hailed the return of Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi because of his creativity.
“It will indeed be an uphill struggle for the Zambians to pin the skillful player down to a position, as he is used to drifting wide every now and then,” Babayaro said.
Akintunde Bada, a sports analyst, also urged Rohr to ensure cohesion and stability in the team.
Bada singled out players like Balogun, Obi and Moses as the spine of the team.
“Every team goes to war with the best warriors and I must say I am really impressed with the selection of the squad,” he said.(NAN)