Super Eagles Squad

Majority of the players from the Super Eagles' 2014 World Cup side have changed. Indeed, of the team which started against France in the round of 16 in Brazil, only five are involved in the present squad, with just two of them starters. German coach Gernot Rohr has steadily built a new and young team of players that would mostly be having their first feel of the World Cup in Russia.

Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup from a 'Group of Death' that had Cameroon, Zambia and Algeria was heartwarming for the country's teeming football populace, beating Argentina was assuring, but unconvincing results in recent friendlies ahead of the Mundial has elicited mixed reactions.

Nigeria have never reached the World Cup quarter-finals in five previous attempts since the Eagles debuted at US '94, reaching the last 16 on two occasions (1994, 1998, 2014) and crashing out from the group stage twice (2002, 2010).

Can this present squad break the quarter-final jinx in Russia? Rohr's side sure have a tough task on their hands, no doubt.

Below, is the country's 23-man squad, who will compete in Group D against two-time winners Argentina, Croatia and Iceland:

1 - Ikechukwu Ezenwa

The number one after Carl Ikeme fell ill, Ezenwa was seen as the sure man between the sticks until a younger, taller and Europe-based Francis Uzoho emerged from the blues. The Enyimba keeper had a decent outing during the qualifiers, conceding two goals in four games but Ezenwa will have to play second fiddle in Russia, as Rohr seems to have stuck his head out for Uzoho as his number one man.

2 - Brian Idowu

Amkar Perm left-back Idowu had a dream debut scoring against Argentina last November and has virtually claimed the left-back position ever since. Though his mistake, a failed clearance, led to England's second goal, he posted an above per outing on the evening, winning balls and then helping the attack.

Against Czech Republic, he didn't provide much support for the attack. But he looks a starter in Russia. Born in Saint Petersburg to a Nigerian father and a Russian-Nigerian mother, Idowu would come in handy for the side on-and-off the pitch during the World Cup. During last the friendly against the Argentines in Krasnodar, he served as the Eagles interpreter.

3 - Elderson Echiejile

Echiejile was at the 2010 World Cup but after being included in Stephen Keshi's squad for the 2014 edition, he sustained an injury in a warm-up game against Greece and had to be replaced by Ejike Uzoenyi.

His experience perhaps might come in handy for the squad, but the 30-year-old Cercle Brugge left-back has largely warmed the bench since Idowu's dazzling debut and further fine outings. He came on versus Czech and tried to help the attack.

4 - Wilfred Ndidi

Ndidi was Nigeria's most consistent player in the top European leagues before he copped an injury towards the end of last season, which sparked fears in the heart of the country's football faithful ahead of the World Cup.

After being left out in the friendlies against DR Congo and England, he returned to the team on Wednesday and his importance came to the fore again as he was involved in several ball-winning battles and setting up the attack with some eye-catching passes.

5 - William Troost-Ekong

Troost-Ekong opted for Nigeria in 2015 after representing the Netherlands at youth levels. He's formed a close relationship with defensive partner Leon Balogun, which has made fans nickname the duo Oyinbo Wall. One of the sure bets for a starting role barring any issues, the Turkey-based defender overcame first half pressure to coordinate the defence against the Three Lions. He had a relatively quiet game versus Czech in Rohr's experimental 3-5-2 formation.

6 - Leon Balogun

The new Brighton signing had a tough time trying to curtail Harry Kane and had to be substituted immediately after the break. But he was solid at the back, blocking shots and intercepting passes against the Czechs.

Born to a Nigerian father and German mother, Balogun would rather forget his Eagles debut in 2014 in a friendly against Mexico in a hurry. The 29-year-old was injured after 20 minutes in a collision with signage on the touchline, which ended his chances of making that year's World Cup squad.

7 - Ahmed Musa

Musa returned to old club CSKA Moscow in January on a six-month loan deal from Leicester City, after being left out of the former English champions' first team. And the speedy winger was in rich vein of form for the Russian side, scoring six times in 15 games.

However, he's been largely a shadow of himself with the Eagles since joining the team for the World Cup. His pace was a threat to England when he came on as a substitute but failed to make good use of it.

Musa made his 70th appearance for the Eagles against the Czechs, coming on for Victor Moses in the 80th minute but he had another anonymous outing. He scored twice against Argentina at the 2014 World Cup.

8 - Oghenekaro Etebo

Since his January loan switch from Portuguese side Feirense to Las Palmas in La Liga, Etebo has caught the eye with his improved showings where his explosiveness and physicality have caught the eye, especially in the game against Barcelona.

The midfielder had an impressive showing against England after he was introduced to stabilise a non-existent midfield following a disappointing first-half showing by the Eagles.

Rohr deployed the 22-year-old in an unfamiliar anchor-man role, taking the place of vice-captain Ogenyi Onazi, who endured a miserable first 45 minutes. And Etebo's energy and mobility helped calm things down when introduced at the restart. His strong showing allowed the more offensive Mikel Obi and Alex Iwobi to express themselves.

He recorded 409 touches in comparison to Onazi and Mikel's 361 and 386 touches respectively.

9 - Odion Ighalo

Ighalo was named Chinese Super League player of the month for April, when he scored four goals in one match as Changchun Yatai beat Guizhou Hengfeng 5-2 in a league fixture, but his goal drought for the Eagles continue, which has extended to six games after he failed to hit target against the Czechs.

Against England, he was left wandering in the first half without any service but he held up play well in the second half after the midfield came to life and hit the post before Alex Iwobi converted from the rebound.

He had a better game with more support from Victor Moses and Iwobi against Czech Republic, and was denied twice by good saves from the Czech keeper.

The striker last scored for Nigeria in the Eagles 4-0 win over Cameroon in the qualifiers in Uyo in 2017.

10 - John Mikel Obi

Captain Mikel is the engine room, the star man and the leader of the young team. He played a key role in the qualifiers and even sneaked in a goal in the 4-0 defeat of African champions Cameroon.

He reportedly promised President Muhammadu Buhari that the team would return from Russia with the World Cup trophy but he's had a bitter-sweet tale with the team in the preparatory games ahead of the Mundial.

Against England, he failed to control the game especially in the first half but got better in the second, keeping possession with good passes. Against the Czechs, his distribution was almost flawless, and linked up well with both Moses and Iwobi.

11 - Victor Moses

The Chelsea man was Nigeria's top scorer in the qualifiers with four goals. Moses plays as a forward for the Eagles despite his club role as a wing back, and he has done a great job in both positions for both club and country.

He was a menace to the Polish defenders during the pre-World Cup friendly in March. After he was brought down in the Polish area, the 27-year-old dusted himself up to convert the penalty that sealed the win for the Eagles to cap a fine outing.

But against England, he failed to create any clear cut chance for the team, as he laboured all day. He had a better game versus the Czechs, with good dribbling and dangerous crosses. He's done a poor job of taking the team's free kicks.

12 - Shehu Abdullahi

The Turkey-based defender was Rohr's first choice at right-back during the qualifiers but after some unconvincing showing recently, the German coach might look the way of the more enterprising Tyronne Ebuehi.

Shehu had a hell of time keeping out Ashley Young against England, was poor in marking and lost possession easily before he was pulled off for Ebuehi. He was a shade better against the Czechs with his tackles, but his passes were poor.

13 - Simeon Nwankwo

Hard work and luck define Nwnakwo's journey to the World Cup. The Crotone striker caught the eye with an overhead kick goal against Juventus and Rohr promptly handed him his debut against DR Congo last month. He had a decent outing and he's Russia bound! The 22-year-old missed the England game but was full of energy in the 20 minutes he featured against the Czechs.

14 - Kelechi Iheanacho

Just like at Leicester City, where he falls behind Jermain Vardy in the pecking order, Iheanacho is also preferred as second choice to Ighalo by Rohr. He's been deployed too late in the recent friendlies for him to be properly assessed.

15 - Joel Obi

After a career that has largely been blighted by injuries, Obi is going to his first World Cup but the returning Lazio midfielder has lost the creative impetus he normally provided the Eagles on his heyday. Indeed, how he made the World Cup team still baffles fans of the game. Against Poland, he wasn't assertive, and against England, it was same story.

16 - Daniel Akpeyi

Akpeyi has never grabbed the opportunity to establish himself as the number one goalkeeper whenever given. In his last appearance, the Chippa United man's expensive error led to Argentina's first goal after handling the ball outside his area in November's friendly. Before then, he had also put up below average performance as South Africa defeated their bitter rivals in Uyo in an AFCON qualifier last year.

17 - Ogenyi Onazi

Onazi's inclusion in the final squad to Russia raised eyebrows with keen followers of the country's game questioning his inclusion in the team. The Eagles star of the 2014 World Cup, Onazi's form has dipped considerably, and has seen him post some horrible performances recently. The Eagles vice-captain was disastrous against the Three Lions and had a hand in the Englishmen's two goals; he lost possession too easily on several occasions; his tackles were not well timed and it caused the total collapse of the team's midfield in the opening half of the game. He apologised to Nigerians but it seemed Rohr's not impressed and dropped him for the Czech game.

18 - Alex Iwobi

Arsenal's Iwobi has been the creative spark in an otherwise unenterprising Eagles side in their last three games. He was Nigeria's best performer against the English and scored the consolation. He had another fine outing against the Czechs with his dribbles and incisive runs. Iwobi, who grabbed the goal that sealed World Cup qualification, is daring, ready to take responsibilities even though he's not one of the senior players in the team. The Eagles will need him to deliver the goods in Russia, no doubt.

19 - John Ogu

Ogu missed the last Mundial by a whisker but the 30-year-old has been handed another chance by Rohr to appear at the Mundial.

The big midfielder came on against England after the break and helped stabilise the midfield for the Eagles as Rohr switched from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 and perhaps nicked a World Cup place in the process.

Playing in an unfamiliar role against the Czechs, Ogu carried out his defensive duties well from the left side of a three-man defence, covering up for Balogun and Troost-Ekong, and made up for his lack of pace with some good positioning and reading of the game.

20 - Chidozie Awaziem

Centre-back Awaziem's inclusion in Rohr's final squad was met with strong criticisms with some arguing that the centre-back, who was on loan at Nantes last season, had never been up to scratch in national colours. Last year, Awaziem had an awful competitive Eagles debut when Tokelo Rantie ran him ragged over and over again as Bafana Bafana claimed a painful first ever win over the Eagles.

Rohr has kept faith with him but the Porto man has failed to grab the opportunity, and has had to bide his time on the bench. Against Serbia, Awaziem's only shiny light was perhaps his tinted hair, as he was taught some footballing lessons by Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose brace gave the Serbs a deserved 2-0 win.

21 - Tyronne Ebuehi

Born in the Netherlands to a Nigerian father and a Dutch mother, Ebuehi pledged his international future to Nigeria and made his Eagles debut against Togo in 2017. The new Benfica signing has been in exciting form in the Eagles' last two friendlies with his overlapping runs down the right, and was unlucky to have been denied a penalty against the Czechs on one of his forays upfront. The 22-year-old has a quick recovery rate and would definitely give Shehu a strong fight for the starting role at right-back.

22 - Kenneth Omeruo

Omeruo's won major international honours and played against some of the world's best players: Didier Drogba, Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Javier Hernandez amongst others. But he's struggled to reproduce the form he showed for Nigeria at U-20 level for the Eagles and has been unable to play a single game for Chelsea since he joined the Blues in 2012. He played at the last World Cup but he's not been able to assert himself in the middle of the defence, where the Oyinbo Wall has held sway.

23 - Francis Uzoho

For those who feel providence has played a key role in Uzoho's emergence as Rohr's favoured man between the sticks, they may not be wrong after all.

In 2013, he was clearly not in the picture for a spot on the Golden Eaglets squad to the 2013 U-17 World Cup in the UAE, having not played in the African qualifiers for the tournament. But then after three other keepers, who were favoured ahead of him, failed the MRI test, he was listed on the team that would eventually win the tournament.

Same also applied to his emergence in the Eagles set-up. After just two La Liga appearances for Deportivo La Coruna, the 19-year-old got his chance as a 45th minute substitute for Akpeyi in the international friendly against Argentina in Krasnodar. And he didn't concede as the Eagles ran out 4-2 winners.

He's gone on to feature in five additional games, conceding six goals but he's had to face criticisms from a section of the country's football crazy populace, who prefer the more experienced Ezenwa. But the 6ft 5in tall keeper has shown tremendous improvement and confidence having been given personal training by the Eagles technical staff.

Uzoho has shown nice footwork, good reflexes, and a solid aerial presence in the build-up to the World Cup. Against England, he let Kane's shot slip through his hands for the Three Lions second goal. But against the Czechs, he had a solid performance; he was impressive with a couple of saves, dealt better with set-pieces and commanded his area.

- Punch