Delta State capital, Asaba will again come agog with football frenzy this weekend, as Nigeria’s men’s soccer national team, Super Eagles report to camp for the commencement of their final preparations ahead of the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations holding in Egypt.
The Eagles’ camp will open on Sunday, when invited players, alongside the technical crew and administrative staff start arriving in Asaba, and training is expected to begin the following day Stephen Keshi Stadium.
The team will also play an international friendly at the same venue few days after opening camp, before heading out to Ismailia, Egypt for the last phase of their preparations heading into AFCON 2019.
The flight will be set in motion this weekend in ‘The Big Heart’ of Nigeria, which has eased into the forefront as the nation’s football capital, since hosting the 2018 AITEO Cup final and the international friendly between the Eagles and Uganda’s Cranes in November 2018.
Since then, the Eagles have also played Seychelles in Asaba in an AFCON qualifier and hosted Egypt in a friendly.
The city, which lies on the west bank of River Niger, with a long bridge separating it from nearby Onitsha, marking a link between the south-east and south-west zones of Nigeria, also hosted the under-23 side, Olympic Eagles’ 4-0 thrashing of Libya in an U23 AFCON qualifier in March.
Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) information department stated Friday that the Eagles’ backroom staff are expected to be complete in camp on Sunday, with some players also bound to arrive early, while the larger chunk of the lads should hit town on Monday.
This first phase of camping will also take in a friendly match, against fellow-Egypt 2019-bound Warriors of Zimbabwe on Saturday, 8th June, a day before the squad travels to Ismailia aboard a chartered flight.
In Ismailia, they will spend a full week at Hotel Mercure and train in the Egyptian city’s main stadium, perfecting tactics and strategies, before taking on Africa’s number one-ranked team Senegal in another friendly.
On 17th January, the three-time champions will travel to Alexandria in Egypt, which will be the venue of their Group B matches against Burundi, Guinea and Madagascar, in that order.
Ahead of the last phase of preparations, Eagles’ coach, Gernot Rohr had invited 25 players to the camp, with six others on standby – among who three are based at home.
The list of invitees has three goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (Anorthosis Famagusta, Cyprus); Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Katsina United); and Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa).
They will be joined by eight defenders: Olaoluwa Aina (Torino, Italy); Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor, Turkey); Leon Balogun (Brighton, England); Chidozie Awaziem (Caykur Rizespor, Turkey); William Ekong (Udinese, Italy); Kenneth Omeruo (Leganes, Spain); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany); and Semi Ajayi (Rotherham United, England).
Only four midfielders are invited, namely: John Mikel Obi (recently at Middlesbrough FC, England); Wilfred Onyinyen Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Oghenekaro Etebo (Stoke City, England); and John Ugochukwu Ogu (recently Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Israel).
Ten forwards are also listed, including: Ahmed Musa (Al Nassar, Saudi Arabia); Victor Osimhen (Royal Charleroi, Belgium); Moses Simon (Levante, Spain); Henry Onyekuru (Galatasaray, Turkey); and Odion Jude Ighalo (Shanghai Shenhua, China).
Others are: Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal, Spain), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, England); Samuel Kalu (Girondins Bordeaux, France); Paul Onuachu (FC Midtjyland, Denmark); and Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England).
Six others are on standby, being: Theophilus Afelokhai (Enyimba FC); Bryan Idowu (Lokomotiv Moscow, Russia); Ikouwem Utin (Enyimba FC); Mikel Agu (Vitoria Setubal, Portugal); Junior Ajayi (Al Ahly, Egypt); Valentine Ozornwafor (Enyimba FC).