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2014 Brazil World Cup: Defenders At Keshi’s Disposal

2014 Brazil World Cup: Defenders At Keshi’s Disposal

A coach that fields a weak defence line in a football match is surely asking for trouble. No matter the number of goals his strikers score, his defence will always be prone to conceding even more.

That is why most modern coaches build their attacks from the defence. A defender these days is more or less a support striker.

Aside preventing the opponents from scoring, he must also help in initiating his team’s attack; he needs speed to defend and overlap, must be able to deliver the killer-pass in a counter-attack situation and should be good at shooting as well.

These qualities and more alongside his defensive duties, are paramount for the modern day defender.

With all these in mind and with just four months to the beginning of the World Cup, Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi, would probably be having a rethink on who plays a role in his defence in Brazil.

This is because the country’s defenders have been experiencing mixed fortunes both in Europe and on the domestic scene.

If Keshi sticks to his preferred Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo in central defence, Efe Ambrose (right-back) and Elderson Echiejie (left-back), he may be courting trouble in Brazil.

Oboabona, who joined Turkish side Rizespor has not had a rosy beginning in Europe, while Omeruo is gradually trying to adapt to life in the English Championship after moving to Middlesbrough, on loan from Chelsea.

But Ambrose has played a major role at Scottish champions Celtic, since his move from Israel last season.

Keshi would have heaved a huge sigh of relief after Echiejile sealed a shock move to big spending AS Monaco in January. If he gets regular playing time at the French club, then the Nigeria coach is sure his left-back problems would be almost over.

Central defence

Godfrey Oboabona (Rizespor)

Turkey-based former Sunshine Stars of Akure central defender, Oboabona, was one of the major revelations of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, posting solid performances as Nigeria won the trophy for a third time.

That sterling outing earned him a move to Turkish topflight side, Rizespor, and expectations were that he would transfer national team success to club football in Europe.

However, the Edo-born player has struggled to find his rhythm in Turkey, as he was initially left out of Rizespor’s starting line-up.

After gradually winning a place in the team, it has been a topsy-turvy ride for the defender, who conceded his second own goal of the season last weekend.

Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough)

Omeruo won the African Cup of Nations last year, posting an outstanding performance at the heart of the Eagles defence along with Oboabona. He also won rave reviews last season in Holland with ADO Den Haag but for all his promise and pedigree, he has found things relatively difficult at Boro after his debut at Doncaster.

The ex-Flying Eagles centre-back watched the Championship from the stands for the best part of a month before his debut, after arriving on loan early in January.

Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves)

Though a proposed move to the South African topflight hit the rocks recently, Egwuekwe has prove beyond doubt that he remains one of Nigeria’s best defenders.

The towering centre-back has an all-action style coupled with an imposing physical presence at the back. He is dominant aerially and times his tackle well. A bout of chicken pox before last year’s AFCON ensured he didn’t get playing time at the competition but after playing at the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 CHAN, he looks set to realise his ultimate dream of playing at the World Cup.

Kunle Odunlami (Sunshine Stars)

Not many knew Odunlami before last January’s African Nations Championship. After a great outing that had him named in the Tournament XI, he is now in contention for a place in the Eagles World Cup squad.

Odunlami is strong, has good marking skills and a big heart for the big occasion. Though not yet a finished product, he can give the other defenders a run for their money ahead of the trip to Brazil.

Joseph Yobo (Norwich City)

After a spat with the Eagles technical crew for being left out of the national team, few probably gave Yobo a chance back into the team. But a loan move from Turkish giants Fenerbahce to struggling EPL side Norwich City has since changed the fortunes of the defender. He has been impressive in his first few games and Keshi has been forced to look his way again with an invite for next month’s friendly against Mexico. He may just have warmed his way into Keshi’s World Cup list and then hopefully attain the 100-cap milestone. He currently has 95 caps.


Efe Ambrose (Celtic)

Ambrose is one of the most versatile Nigerian defenders, playing at right-back for the Eagles and as a central defender for Celtic, where he has forged a perfect understanding with Dutch partner Virgil van Dijk. He can also play in defensive midfield.

Playing in the UEFA Champions League has largely improved the game of the Delta-born player and ahead of the World Cup, he looks a sure bet – barring injuries or any other unforeseen problem – for Brazil, even though Keshi insists no player has an automatic place in his squad.

Solomon Kwambe (Sunshine Stars)

Kwambe played in all but one game at the 2014 CHAN. The right-back enjoyed a fine campaign in South Africa, but his missed penalty in their semi-final shootout against Ghana contributed to Nigeria missing out on a place in the final.

His performance caught the eye of MLS team Vancouver Whitecaps FC, where he went on trials but he is back to Sunshine Stars.


Elderson Echiejile (Monaco)

New Monaco man Echiejile is highly mobile, joins the attack often and recovers easily to perform his defensive duties.

Always businesslike, his crosses from the left flank have been invaluable for both club and country. He scores as well, just like he exhibited during the 2013 AFCON semi-final against Mali.

Juwon Oshaniwa (Ashod)

Israel-based Oshaniwa has been left out of the national team since replacing Echiejile in last year’s AFCON final match against Burkina Faso. He has been recalled for the Mexico friendly. How he performs will determine his future in the team.

Francis Benjamin (Heartland)

The left back has been a regular face in the Eagles camp since coach Stephen Keshi took over but rarely gets to play. The Heartland left-back is strong, good in man-marking and loves going forward. He packs a powerful shot as well.

Other options

Kenny Otigba (SC Heerenveen)

Tough-tackling Heerenveen center-back Otigba was born in Kaduna and even though he has represented Hungary at youth levels, he has refused to pledge his international future to the European country.

The 21-year-old has excelled this season in the Eredivisie, scoring five goals. The player has reportedly indicated interest to play for Nigeria but there seems to be no contact between the player and the football federation yet.

Derik Osede (Real Madrid B)

Born in Madrid to a Nigerian father and a Spanish mother, Osede has represented Spain at U-16, U-17, U-18, U-19 and U-20 levels, winning the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship with the U-19 side.

The Real Madrid B centre-back who also represented Spain at the 2013 U-20 World Cup, could bring more competition to Keshi’s central defence.

The 20-year-old is a centre-back, with many qualities. He is quick, decisive and a well-rounded player physically and technically. He joined Madrid’s academy at the age of nine and advanced through almost all the categories.

Tiago Ilori (Granada)

Central defender Ilori, on loan to Granada from Liverpool, has a Nigerian father and Portuguese mother but represented his mother’s country at the 2013 U-20 World Cup.

Ilori’s assets are his technique, composure and tactical reading of the game.

Leon Balogun (Fortuna Düsseldorf)

Born to a Nigerian father, Cesar and German mother, Orfa, Leon qualifies to play for the Nigerian national team and Germany. The right-back has played for Hannover and Weder Bremen before but he has not been capped by Germany at senior level. He recently indicated interest in representing Nigeria.

Source: Punch

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