Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr has confessed that he found it difficult making up his mind to drop Leicester City striker, Kelechi Iheanacho and Rotherham United defender, Semi Ajayi from his final squad roster to this year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
Although the Franco-German gaffer disclosed that he eventually took the decision before Saturday’s friendly against Zimbabwe, which ended goalless at Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba, it was not a straightforward matter, as many factors had to be taken into consideration.
Rohr, though, hinted that the fact that the Eagles are currently blessed with a plethora of top strikers who are doing very well with their clubs tilted the odds against Iheanacho, who did not start a single match for Leicester during the season in England, while Ajayi fell out on the roll call of top-flight defenders and midfielders Nigeria also has on offer.
The Eagles’ gaffer added that he and his assistants had been monitoring the performances of Nigeria’s players before they arrived at the camp in Asaba, during which the crew knew that they had to drop a striker and a midfielder, the categories into which Iheanacho and Ajayi fell into.
Rohr’s list has thre goalkeepers: Francis Odinaka Uzoho (Anorthosis Famagusta, Cyprus); Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Katsina United); and Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa).
Also listed are seven defenders: Olaoluwa Aina (Torino FC, Italy); Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor FC, Turkey); Chidozie Awaziem (Caykur Rizespor, Turkey); William Ekong (Udinese FC, Italy); Leon Balogun (Brighton & Hove Albion, England); Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); and Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany).
Only four midfielders make the cut, being: captain John Mikel Obi (Middlesbrough, England); Wilfred Onyinyen Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Oghenekaro Etebo (Stoke City, England); and John Ugochukwu Ogu (until recently at Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Israel)
The listed forwards include: Ahmed Musa (Al Nassar, Saudi Arabia); Victor Osimhen (Royal Charleroi, Belgium); Moses Simon (Levante, Spain); and Henry Onyekuru (Galatasaray SK, Turkey).
Other forwards on the roll call named by Rohr are: Odion Jude Ighalo (Shanghai Shenhua, China); Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, England); Samuel Kalu (Girondins Bordeaux, France); Paul Onuachu (FC Midtjyland, Denmark); and Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal, Spain).
Rohr admitted that he used the game against Zimbabwe as a trial for his shock decision to leave Iheanacho out, in particular, as he wanted to put his choices to test, with a hint that it was meant to try all the strikers.
Indeed, as many as seven offensive players were given a run-out against Zimbabwe, but Rohr acknowledged that it would not be the same case in the thick of action at AFCON 2019.
Rohr expatiated: “It’s not this match alone that will give us a decision on the two players we have to drop
“We already had our opinion before the match because we observed them throughout the season and we saw what they did.
“Also all week in the training sessions. We had seven training sessions to see the fitness, confidence of the players.
“Normally in a match you cannot bring so many strikers. We played with a lot of offensive players.
”We played with seven strikers, all the strikers who deserve to play. We started with three strikers, the others came in.
”We have Chukwueze, Kalu, Henry, Osimhen, Paul, Simon also. The choice of dropping two players is really difficult for me.”