Odion Ighalo will return to the Nigeria squad for their World Cup qualifiers against Cameroon next month, and the Changchun Yatai of China striker will be expected to give the Super Eagles the attacking edge they lacked when they faced South Africa in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in June.
Ighalo, 28, was overlooked for an AFCON 2019 qualifier against the Bafana Bafana last June as he struggled to settle in China.
In his absence, the Super Eagles lacked a real attacking threat with Kelechi Iheanacho – who played as the center forward in that match – struggling to assert himself.
However, this is not to say Ighalo’s presence in that match would necessarily have made the difference, but it was clear the Eagles needed a real presence in attack, which they lacked with Iheanacho.
Ighalo, on his part, has also hardly covered himself in a blaze of glory with the Super Eagles, with his three goals in 10 appearances making for better reading than his actual performances in those games.
But then, he is what you would call a ‘proper No. 9’, and it was something like that the three-time African champions lacked when Bafana Bafana came calling.
But the former Watford striker has since found a rich vein of form, overcoming his early struggles in front of goal, scoring nine goals in his last eight games in the Chinese Super League, and 11 in 21 appearances for Changchun Yatai.
At a time when the leagues in Europe have only just begun, he would be Nigeria’s most prolific striker abroad at the moment – never mind playing in China.
So, it makes perfect sense for him to have been included in the squad to face Cameroon in games that could see Nigeria all but confirm their place at the World Cup in Russia next year.
Added to the fact that Iheanacho has only just recovered from a toe injury and was confirmed to be lacking in match fitness by the Leicester City manager, Ighalo’s return is a no-brainer.
While Ighalo’s confirmed return will surely make the headline, another which would also be a headline-grabber is Anthony Nwakaeme.
The 28-year old has been knocking on the Super Eagles’ door for the past one year, having consistently posted impressive performances backed with goals for Israeli champions, Hapoel Be’er Sheva.
Unconfirmed reports suggest he has finally been given a call by Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr, and with the list of invited players for the games expected to be announced this week, it would be more of a long-overdue call than a shocking one should Nwakaeme’s name be on that list.
Nwakaeme has already scored five goals in six games across all competitions for Be’er Sheva this term, further underlining his consistency in front of goal, having plundered 17 goals for the Israeli side last season as they won the title for the second consecutive year.
It remains to be seen whether Nwakaeme makes the list and how he responds to international football being his first time, but one thing that is clear is that the Super Eagles will have a more potent attacking line-up than they did the last time out.
By Chris Oguguo