Nigeria squad for October friendlies features six new faces as Rohr sticks to youth

A fortuitous, for him, set of injuries saw Rangers midfielder Joe Aribo both make an unexpected start to his international career with Nigeria, but now a similar injury-enforced absence, for him, has seen the shoe slide snugly onto the other foot.

Aribo's absence from the latest Nigeria squad could leave his long-term place in danger, with competition from newbie Frank Onyeka and returnee Mikel Agu, who were named in Gernot Rohr's squad ahead of October friendlies against Ivory Coast and Tunisia.

An injury to Wilfred Ndidi saw Aribo start alongside Oghenekaro Etebo in his first international game, scoring in a September 2019 friendly against Ukraine and then following it up with another scrimmage goal, this time against Brazil.

Just when Ndidi returned from injury, his regular partner, Oghenekaro Etebo, was similarly sidelined, extending Aribo's place in the starting line up for another two games, this time qualifiers against Benin and Lesotho.

With both now back, Aribo was expected to stake his very strong claim to be more than just a back up, only to pick up an ankle injury earlier this month.

And now, the 24-year-old could find himself facing the exact same situation he profited from. Rohr named his squad for two friendlies next month, with both Etebo and Ndidi called up at the same time for the first time in a year.

But more concerning for Aribo would be the first time call up of Onyeka, a midfielder who has excelled with Denmark's FC Midtylland. Onyeka, 22, was voted his club's Player of the Season after helping them claim the league title.

So outstanding were his performances that it is a bit of a surprise that he has remained with the club as they try to negotiate their way through the qualifying stages of the UEFA Champions League.

Onyeka will also have to contend with Mikel Agu, who is no stranger to the Nigeria set-up, having narrowly missed a World Cup place in 2018. But if he gets on the field, and shows the same form he has done all season in Denmark, Rohr will be hard-pressed to leave him out of the next set of matches, and Aribo will really begin to sweat.

For the coach, however, it must be just the sort of headache he is quite happy to have.

Familiarity breeds content

There was some concern for Kenneth Omeruo and his place in the team after Leganes were relegated from La Liga.

Sources close to the player told ESPN that he would be open to a temporary move away in order to protect his international place. But Rohr's invitation to the player proves that being a core member of the squad has its perks, as the coach himself admitted.

"If somebody we know well is playing in second division in such a big league like Spain, or England, it is not a problem if he is playing well," the coach told ESPN.

"So, always depending what they're doing in the clubs. They have to play, they have to confirm the good shape they have with us and so I think these players like Tyrone [Ebuehi], Omeruo, we know them already. They made the World Cup with us and if all is okay in the clubs, there's no reason not to take them in our list."

Goalkeeping merry-go-round continues

For these two friendlies, Rohr has decided to call up three goalkeepers with a combined 28 total minutes of senior international experience among them. De facto first choice Francis Uzoho is still recovering from long term injury and only started ball work this summer.

Daniel Akpeyi, who has held fort most of the time, is out with injury and while it is unclear why Ikechukwu Ezenwa has not been called up, the combination of lack of Nigerian league action and the complications of travel restrictions due to COVID-19 could have played a part.

Of the three, Maduka Okoye -- who played the 28 minutes referenced above when he came on for Uzoho in the friendly against Brazil and acquitted himself admirably -- will be in direct competition with Dele Alampasu, a former junior international who is only just beginning to establish himself in Latvia with Ventspils.

Matthew Yakubu is a late replacement for Tobias Lawal, the Austrian junior international who has committed to Nigeria but could not make the squad because of a delay in processing his Nigeria passport.

Outside of those, there is Sebastian Osigwe of FC Lugano who is knocking at the door.

At this rate, Rohr could go from lamenting goalkeeping woes to having more than he can handle.

Youth still a priority for Rohr

Rohr called up six uncapped players to the squad. The youngest, Tijani, is 18 and the oldest, Cyriel Dessers is 25. Combined, their average age comes to 22. It is exactly the ideal that the coach strives for.

Since his appointment as Nigeria coach, Rohr has made it a point of lowering the average age of the squad. Four years after, he continues to do so, and makes no bones about it.

"There are a lot of young players, we are happy all the time when the young players are playing. We have actually already so many and we want them to come more," he told ESPN.

Tijani and Yakubu may very likely not see any action, but just being in the squad would be a phenomenal boost to their careers and speed up their development.

Full squad

Goalkeepers: Dele Alampasu (FK Ventspils, Latvia); Matthew Yakubu (SKF Sered, Slovakia); Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Defenders: Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Leon Balogun (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Chidozie Awaziem (FC Boavista, Portugal); William Ekong (Udinese FC, Italy); Olaoluwa Aina (Fulham FC, England); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany); Oluwasemilogo Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion, England); Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto, Portugal)

Midfielders: Mikel Agu (Vitoria Guimaraes, Portugal); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Frank Onyeka (FC Midtjylland, Denmark); Oghenekaro Etebo (Galatasary SK, Turkey); Samson Tijani (TSV Hartberg, Austria)

Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Al Nassr, Saudi Arabia); Alex Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Victor Osimhen (SSC Napoli, Italy); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain); Cyril Dessers (KRC Genk, Belgium); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Samuel Kalu (Girondins Bordeaux, France); Chidera Ejuke (CSKA Moscow, Russia)

Standby: Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor, Turkey); Ramon Azeez (Granada CF, Spain); Joshua Maja (Girondins Bordeaux, France); Henry Onyekuru (AS Monaco, France); Tyronne Ebuehi (FC Twente, Netherlands)