Brazil 2014: Profiling Nigeria’s defenders

In continuation of our Brazil 2014 coverage, PREMIUM TIMES profiles the defenders in Nigeria’s squad.

Having conceded four goals in their last three outings, many have rightly posited that the Super Eagles will have to be more compact in the backline if they are to go far at the Brazil 2014 World Cup.

The Nigerian defence indeed boasts of a healthy mix of players; home and foreign based. The youngest (Kenneth Omeruo) and the oldest (Joseph Yobo) in the Nigerian squad will be heading to Brazil to challenge 31 other countries for the World Cup trophy.

With the injury and subsequent replacement of AS Monaco left-back, Elderson Echiejile, Coach Stephen Keshi is left with seven natural defenders in his roster.

The selected defenders indeed have their work cut out as they will face some of the most deadly front-men in Brazil, including the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko to mention a few of the star studded men in Group F where Nigeria will be playing in.

Joseph Yobo (On-loan Norwich City, Age 33, 96 caps): Undisputedly, the Fenerbahce of Turkey defender is the most experienced player in the squad going to Brazil.

At 96 caps and still counting, many believe Yobo has seen it all and should come in handy for Nigeria when the going gets tough in Brazil.

Having been shut out of the national team since the AFCON 2013 triumph, Yobo was finally brought back into the mix by Coach Stephen Keshi; a move that was greeted by varying reactions.

Yobo no doubt is a strong central defender who acts as commander for the team and majorly the back four.

However, with age no longer on his side and more because he is prone to the occasional gaffes, Yobo may be condemned to playing similar cameo role he played for the Eagles in their run to lifting the AFCON 2013 trophy in South Africa.

The appearance in Brazil will complete a hat trick of shows for Yobo, Nigeria’s most capped player ever, at the Mundial having featured in the 2002 and 2010 editions.

Efe Ambrose (Celtic, Age 25, 37 caps): The Kaduna–born defender has in the past years monopolised the right-back position in the Super Eagles squad.
Two things going for Ambrose are his superb work rate and also eye for goals which has seen him score some eye-popping goals for both the national team and his club in Scotland in recent times.

Despite wearing his first cap as far back as 2008, the Brazil World Cup will be the first Mundial for Ambrose. Talking of one of the most improved players in the Super Eagles squad, Ambrose sure deserves a nomination as he has moved from strength since making the career boosting move to Celtic in 2012.

Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves, Age 24, 23 caps): Popularly referred to as ‘The Mechanic” perhaps for his raw and no nonsense approach in the defence line, Egwuekwe is one of the greatest beneficiary of Coach Keshi’s believe in home-based stars. The towering defender has in recent times been a regular feature in the national team but has been unable to export his talents as he remains with Glo Premier League side, Warri Wolves, despite attending several trials in Europe and South Africa in a bid to move to a bigger league.

While Egwuekwe puts to good use his imposing stature, his major drawback is his lack of
pace.

Egwuekwe was a squad member in the 2013 Nations Cup winning team and also made three substitute appearances at last year’s Confederation Cup in Brazil. He scored a vital last minute equaliser against Malawi in the World Cup qualifiers.

Godfrey Oboabona (Caykur Rizespor, Age 23, 34 caps): The former Sunshine Stars of Akure skipper has earned for himself an ‘untouchable’ status in the Super Eagles line-up having proved to be one of the most reliable defenders available to Nigeria at this point.

From literal obscurity, Oboabona has played himself into the heart of defence of the Nigeria squad where he is now a super regular.

Oboabona justified the faith reposed in him by Coach Keshi as he churned out a five star performance in South Africa to help Nigeria lift the 2013 Nations Cup. It has been forward ever for Oboabona who now stars in the Turkish top flight with Rizespor.

Oboabona’s contribution to Nigeria making it to her 5th World Cup cannot be underestimated having played in all eight of the qualifying games Nigeria needed to get to Brazil.

Kunle Odunlami (Sunshine Stars, Age 24, 8 caps): Odunlami is one of the home based players heading to Brazil and the player will want to follow the example of his ex-Akure pal, Oboabona, who was largely.

unknown but had his solid performance do the talking, paving a way to Europe for him.

Odunlami caught the eyes of many with his rock solid performance for Nigeria at the Africa Nations Championships (CHAN2014) early in the year. He was subsequently named in CAF’s best XI for the tournament.

A solid performance against Scotland a fortnight ago proved convincing enough for Coach Stephen Keshi to pick him as defensive cover for Brazil. Imposing presence at the back but unlikely to get any regular game time at the World Cup.

 Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea, Age 20, 16 caps): Though he is the youngest in the Nigeria squad, his experience and exposure rates are far above many older legs in the Super Eagles squad heading to Brazil.

The past weeks, however, have not been the best for Omeruo who has been forced to miss the last set of test- matches lined up for the Eagles to get in shape for the challenge that awaits them in Brazil.

Since his debut for the Super Eagles in 2013 in a goalless draw against Cape Verde, Omeruo has been consistent in the senior national team.

He played a key role in Nigeria’s victorious outing at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON, in South Africa featuring in all the matches.
One of his unforgettable moments was his sterling performance in the quarter-final against the star-studded Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire where he gave Didier Drogba a nightmare.

Omeruo also made it to the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup where he proved his mettle even though the episode was punctured with a shoulder injury. When fit, Omeruo is an asset in the backline and many pray he will be ready when Nigeria starts out on June 16 against Iran.

Juwon Oshaniwa (Ashdod, Age 23, 12 caps): The Israel-based defender may have to grow faster than he bargained as his role in the Super Eagles squad may have changed from a cover at the left-back to manning the position vacated by injured AS Monaco stalwart, Elderson Echiejile.

Oshaniwa has gained only a dozen caps since his debut for the senior national team in 2012.

The left-back made the squad to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in South Africa but could only feature in one game when he came on as a second half substitute for Echiejile who sustained an injury in the final match against Burkina Faso.

Many were quick to pass judgement on the former Sharks of Port Harcourt defender that he wasn’t good enough; which probably explains why he was not brought in when Echiejile cupped his latest knock in the Greece friendly.

They may have been proven right as in the U.S. friendly, Oshaniwa made it glaring to opponents that the left side of defence will be apt to exploit when playing against Nigeria.


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