Scouting Keshi's Afcon Eagles
Nigeria head coach, Stephen Keshi has assured he will meet the January 9 deadline of Caf for submission of final squad for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.
''We are aware of the deadline and we shall ensure we keep to it,'' Keshi was quoted as saying in the November 23 edition of the Nigerian Tribune.
But the Super Eagles' manager has been linked with a number of players in recent days as he plots on his final 23-man squad for the Afcon in the coming days.
Since his tenure began as Nigeria's head coach from November 2, 2011 till date, Keshi has called up more than 50 players but supersport.com samples the players, who have enjoyed appearances under the 50-year-old coach and those who fall between the divides of sure bets and doubts for the Afcon.
The sure bets
Straight off to the men with an almost 100 percent chance of making the Afcon squad. At least it is safe to say that 11 out of the more than 50 men invited since the Keshi era will be in the flight to South Africa next year.
The 11 are Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa, Vincent Enyeama, Nosa Igiebor, John Mikel Obi, Ikechukwu Uche, Elderson Echiejile, Austin Ejide, Godfrey Oboabona, Efe Ambrose and captain Joseph Yobo.
These players have cemented their places barring any injuries and irrespective of Keshi always coming up with no player has a place yet in his Afcon squad.
A handful of players fall into this category. They have one leg in and another out of the 23-man Afcon squad.
Shola Ameobi with his first cap for Nigeria heads this list. Keshi has continued to sing about the Newcastle United striker's leadership abilities since he came off the bench for the game against Venezuela recently.
Other players in contention for Afcon spots are Emmanuel Emenike, Juwon Oshaniwa, Brown Ideye, Ogenyi Onazi, Chigozie Agbim, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Papa Idris and Reuben Gabriel.
Obiora Nwankwo, Bright Dike, Solomon Kwambe, Obafemi Martins, Sone Aluko, Henry Uche, Umar Zango, Benjamin Francis and Uche Kalu are the others also in contention.
However, the Afcon chance of three players, Peter Odemwingie, Joel Obi, Kalu Uche, remains in the balance.
Odemwingie has been left out of recent games proving supersport.com's report on November 2 spot on in which Keshi said the West Bromwich Albion man wants a break from international football.
As for Obi, he has struggled to return to Inter Milan's starting 11 since he recovered from a thigh injury but the older of the Uche brothers, Kalu, has been continually snubbed despite his eye-catching performance for Turkey top flight side, Kasimpasa, where he has scored seven goals this term.
It is sad to say that the doubts are mainly players from the home front. One of them is Enugu Rangers' winger, Ejike Uzoenyi. He seem to have lost his place after a sparkling start during Keshi's early days in charge. Little wonder he came on as a substitute against Venezuela and got subbed within minutes - signalling a possible end of an Afcon spot for him.
Others who have worked hard during recent call-ups but might miss the party to the Rainbow Nation are Gomo Onduku, Sunday Mba, Daniel Akpeyi, Gambo Mohammed, Sanusi Sani, Obinna Nwachukwu, Philip Asuquo and Apam Onyekachi, the only overseas player in this list.
Meanwhile there are those who have got the cold shoulder from the current Super Eagles' selectors. The likes of Taye Taiwo, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Ekigho Ehiosun, Victor Anichebe, Chinedu Obasi, Kenneth Omeruo and Danny Shittu.
A section of the sporting media in Nigeria reported last week that Shittu is primed to return in the wake of the Eagles' woeful defending in the Venezuela game. But Keshi laughed it off saying: "May be for another Super Eagles."
At least by now, Keshi will have a picture of at least 75 percent of who will fit into his squad for the 2013 Afcon. There is also likely to be one or two surprises.
But supersport.com picks Keshi's likely 23-man list below:
Goalkeepers: Austin Ejide, Vincent Enyeama, Chigozie Agbim
Defenders: Joseph Yobo, Efe Ambrose, Elderson Echiejile, Godfrey Oboabona, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Solomon Kwambe, Juwon Oshaniwa or Benjamin Francis
Midfielders: John Mikel Obi, Nosa Igiebor, Ogenyi Onazi, Henry Uche, Obiora Nwankwo, Reuben Gabriel
Strikers: Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa, Ikechukwu Uche, Shola Ameobi, Brown Ideye, Obafemi Martins, Bright Dike