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Who could fill Nigeria's John Obi Mikel-shaped void?

Super Eagles captain John Obi Mikel has opted out of Nigeria's crucial 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Seychelles on 8 September, but replacing his presence and impact will be tricky.

The 31-year-old China-based midfielder only recently made a return from injury, and has deemed it wise to sit-out Nigeria's first game since the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

With Nigeria needing a positive result to reassert their heavyweight credentials in Group E, here are four players who could fill the Mikel void.

Alex Iwobi

Nigeria fans were left disappointed by the limited role Arsenal's Iwobi played during the Super Eagles' World Cup campaign. Aside from scoring the all-important goal which secured qualification against Zambia, the Gunners man had been tipped to be a leading light amongst the new generation of players.

However, a change in tactical system to a 3-5-2 formation saw Iwobi's options strictly limited, and the trio of Mikel, Oghenekaro Etebo, and Wilfred Ndidi were the preferred starters, thus ensuring the 22-year-old endured an uneventful tournament.

Mikel's absence from the Seychelles game affords Iwobi a massive opportunity to play in the number 10 role -- a position where his long-term future in the team possibly lies -- after impressing in friendly defeats to England and Czech Republic.

A combination of factors, including his creativity, mobility, and goalscoring threat, mean his oft-criticised defensive shortcomings won't be much of a worry for coach Gernot Rohr.

John Ogu

The sporadic Super Eagle has largely struggled to stamp his authority on the national team, not for a lack of ability but due to the presence of Mikel.

They share a similar playing style and are of the same generation, a situation that similarly played out during the heyday of Austin 'Jay-Jay' Okocha and Wilson Oruma.

A return of 19 international appearances in five years sums up the frustrations of a technically gifted left-footed player, who makes up for his lack of pace with a strong physical presence (6 ft 3 in) and a fierce shot.

Ogu was in contention for a starting spot at the World Cup, before Etebo was selected ahead of him, largely due to the latter's mobility and high work-rate.

His strong start to the new season -- five starts and two goals in European competitions for Hapoel Beer Sheva -- could make him a credible option for a box-to-box midfield role alongside Etebo and Ndidi.

Kelechi Nwakali

The inexperienced Nwakali is set to make the list of invited players for the Seychelles game, but he remains an outsider for a starting role, despite his immense talent.

The 20-year-old midfielder is tipped as Mikel's heir apparent in the national team, regardless of a season-long loan move to FC Porto B which failed to get the approval of most football stakeholders in Nigeria.

Nwakali has managed to accumulate 148 minutes from two games for Rui Barros' side, who lie 18th on the table following successive defeats.

His game time in Portugal and Rohr's continued blooding of youngsters could see one of the more naturally gifted Nigerians to emerge in the last decade make his full international bow.

Ogenyi Onazi

The much-maligned Onazi is one of the less-likely options to replace Mikel in the line-up following his rather unforgettable performance, for all the wrong reasons, in a pre-World Cup friendly against England.

The 25-year-old defensive midfielder was at the centre of a massive backlash from the fans after that Three Lions game, and unsurprisingly failed to make a single appearance at his second World Cup.

In the absence of Mikel's leadership and experience, Onazi's reinstatement to the line-up will do much to fill that void, but alters the chemistry in what seems a settled midfield selection, with Ndidi favoured for a box-to-box midfield role.

However, in the aftermath of Victor Moses' international retirement, Onazi is one of the more senior figures in the team, and given his unrivalled commitment to Nigeria, he could yet be handed an international lifeline.

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