The Super Eagles commenced training in Dnipro, Ukraine on Sunday evening, as they ignited preparations for Tuesday’s high-profile international friendly with the East European country’s main national team, which is rated 25th on the current FIFA ranking, while Nigeria is 33rd.
Although the Nigerian players started arriving in trickles from their various bases early Sunday, Eagles’ coach, Gernot Rohr insisted on commencing training immediately, as he reckoned that they had not time to waste to get ready for Tuesday’s game at Dnipro-Arena.
With Ukraine showing what they are capable of doing against Nigeria with a 3-0 whipping of Lithuania in Friday’s Euro Championship qualifier, Rohr opted to hit the ground running with his invitees, such that he took the early arrivals at for recovery walk early on Sunday.
Rohr, therefore, set his plans into early motion with 18 players taking part in an early morning team walk around on Sunday, after which he fixed 5.30pm for their first training session, when he expected that all 22 invited players would be fully assembled in Ukraine’s third largest city.
At the team walk were goalkeepers Francis Uzoho, Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Maduka Okoye, defenders William Ekong, Jamilu Collins, Leon Balogun and Bryan Idowu, midfielders Alex Iwobi, Joseph Aribo, Oghenekaro Etebo and Anderson Esiti, and forwards Joshua Maja, Samuel Kalu, Paul Onuachu, Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze, Emmanuel Dennis and Moses Simon.
Spain-based defender Chidozie Awaziem arrived the team’s hotel soon after, ahead of defenders Olaoluwa Aina and Oluwasemilogo Ajayi, and returnee attacker, Kelechi Iheanacho, as they all set about settling down quickly for the training session at Ukrainian Premier League (UPL) club, FC Dnipro’s training ground at Dnipropetrovsk, within Pridniprovsk Housing Estate.
Idowu, Ajayi and Iheanacho are back after being overlooked for the Africa Cup, while Dusseldorf of Germany goalkeeper, Okoye, midfielder Aribo of Scottish club Glasgow Rangers and forwards Maja from Girondins-Bordeaux of France and Dennis from Club Brugge of Belgium) are in the Nigerian camp for the first time.
Saudi Arabia-based Eagles’ captain, Ahmed Musa pulled out of the trip on Thursday night as a result of injury that has failed to heal as quickly, adding to the earlier forced withdrawals of defenders Kenneth Omeruo and Tyronne Ebuehi, midfielder Wilfred Ndidi and forward Henry Onyekuru, who opted out on account of work permit issues at his new base at Monaco of France.
Nigeria’s list has three goalkeepers: Francis Odinaka Uzoho (Omonia Nicosia, Cyprus); Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Heartland); and Emil Maduka Okoye (Fortuna Dusseldorf, Germany); as well as seven defenders: Ola Aina (Torino, Italy); Chidozie Awaziem (Leganes, Spain); William Troost-Ekong (Udinese, Italy); Leon Balogun (Brighton & Hove Albion, England); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn, Germany); Semi Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion, England); and Bryan Idowu (Lokomotiv Moscow, Russia).
Also listed are five midfielders: Alex Iwobi (Everton, England); Anderson Esiti (PAOK Salonica, Greece); Oghenekaro Etebo (Stoke City, England); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); and Joseph Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); as well as seven forwards: Victor Osimhen (Lille OSC, France); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Joshua Maja (Girondins-Bordeaux, France); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal, Spain); Samuel Kalu (Girondins-Bordeaux, France); Paul Onuachu (KRC Genk, Belgium); and Emmanuel Dennis (Club Brugge, Belgium)
Tuesday’s clash will take place at the 31,000 capacity Dnipro Arena, starting at 7.30pm Nigeria time, in what will be the first gathering of the three time African champions since finishing third at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations staged by in Egypt this past June/July.
The game will serve as part of the Eagles’ preparation for November’s 2021 Africa Cup of Nations opening qualifier against The Squirrels of Benin Republic, who on Friday beat Cote d’Ivoire 2-1 in their own first international friendly of the current season.
The Nigerian team, who will also play The Crocodiles of Lesotho and Leone Stars of Sierra Leone in the race to Cameroon 2021, received a boost ahead of Tuesday’s game versus Ukraine, as Turkish Airline promised to deliver to Dnipro before Tuesday the Eagles’ kit bags and luggage of six players that failed to arrive with the delegation from Abuja to Istanbul on Saturday.
Eagles’ team administrator, Dayo Enebi Achor, told thenff.com: “Our kit bags did not arrive with us from Istanbul. The bags of six players also did not arrive, but we have alerted Turkish Airline and they have promised to deliver them to us in Dnipro between Sunday and Monday.”