With eight games played under Sunday Oliseh as coach, the new Super Eagles have started taking shape, with at least nine players, including captain Ahmed Musa, goalkeeper Carl Ikeme and forward Moses Simon, forming the nucleus of the team.
After he was appointed as national coach by the Nigeria Football Federation, Oliseh came up with a list of 18 overseas-based players including some new faces such as Ikeme of Wolverhampton Wanderers, England, Izunna Ernest Uzochukwu of FC Amkar Perm, Russia; Sylvester Igbonuof FC UFA, Russia;Kingsley Madu of AS Trencin, Slovakia;Emem Eduok of Esperance ST, Tunisia; and Simon of KAA Gent, Belgium, ahead of the Eagles’ 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying game against Tanzania, which ended goalless.
All the new faces saw action in Dar es Salam alongside Kenneth Omeruo, William Troost-Ekong, Solomon Kwambe; Nwankwo Obiora, Haruna Lukman, Emmanuel Emenike, Anthony Ujah and Musa, who captained the team.
Since then, Oliseh has invited other players and dropped some from his first squad list, evident in the fact that only four players – Ikeme, Simon, Musa and Igbonu – from the team that faced Tanzania and Niger in a subsequent friendly game, featured in Nigeria’s 2018 World Cup qualifying fixture against Swaziland.
From the friendly games against DR Congo and Cameroon in Belgium to the Swaziland fixture, some other players such as Odion Ighalo, Ogenyi Onazi, Elderson Echiejile, Efe Ambrose and Shehu Abdullahi have been regular in Oliseh’s team.
According to Oliseh, these players have formed the nucleus of the new team he is building and would remain regular part of the Eagles in his reign.
While fielding questions from Nigerians on Brila FM on Monday, ahead of the second leg of Nigeria’s 2018 World Cup qualifying fixture against Swaziland in Port Harcourt, Oliseh said he wouldsoon stop making drastic changes to his squad because he already has the bulk of his regular players
The coach said he now wants to build consistency into the Eagles with these players, who have played for the national team in most of their games from the start of his tenure.
Oliseh said, “We initially invited a lot of people but now you can see that there are some people, who have been there now for some games. The team is taking shape now.You’ll see that there are some players who are part of the groupnow. I believe we already have about 60 per cent of the nucleus of our team. Nigerians should no longer expect drastic changes in the team because the nucleus of the team has already been formed.”
Though Eagles put up an improved performance against Swaziland in Port Harcourt getting a much-needed 2-0 win, pundits have continued to point out the team’s difficulty in scoring goals as a major flaw.
But Oliseh said he was not worried about that.
“I would have been worried if we were not creating chances. We create chances and we don’t knock it in,” he said.
The Nigeria coach said he believes“the more the players keep playing together; the more they keep up their rhythm and understand one another.”
Ex-international Henry Nwosu acknowledged Oliseh’s efforts at building a new national team but said they have yet to be impressive.
“I’ve not really rated the current Eagles individually because I prefer to look at team performance. I’ve not really been impressed by the team and so I don’t want to single out individuals,” the former Golden Eaglets coach told our correspondent on Thursday said.
“I think Oliseh has just started. We have to give him some time before we can judge his performance and that of the team he is building. With the way he has started, I believe Oliseh will go places. But he should also be mindful of the fact that discarding all the old players is dangerous.”
Another former Eagles player Garba Lawal said Oliseh is in the best position select his team’s regulars but noted that after beating Swaziland, Eagles need to brace up for bigger challenges.
Lawal said, “All I want is for Nigeria to win. We defeated Swaziland but we don’t know what our group in the last stage of the World Cup qualifiers is going to look like. What if we meet Cameroon or Ghana? It’s going to be tough. The journey has just started.
“I want the coach to build a team and not individual players. But I can just mention that I’m impressed with Efe Ambrose. He scored two goals in four matches as a defender. That is fantastic. The home-based players also did very well. We want to see more of the home-based players in the team.”
Apart from the nine players, who have apparently booked their places in Oliseh’s squad, some other players including Rabiu Ibrahim, Obi Mikel, Kelechi Iheanacho, Leon Balogun, Geoffrey Oboabona, Obafemi Martins, Paul Onobi, Chima Akas, Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Alex Iwobi, could also become regulars though their status in the team remain unsure.