Late withdrawals mean new Super Eagles on the cards
Calling up a few fresh faces is no guarantee that Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr's line-up against Seychelles would have changed significantly, but there was always a chance that one or two players earn a Super Eagles debut.
Rohr's new faces includes a number of promising young talents, from first time invitees Samuel Kalu of Bordeaux, through Rotherham's Semi Ajayi to Paderborn's Jamilu Collins. And not forgetting previous squad members like Henry Onyekuru and Kelechi Nwakali.
But having seen a spate of withdrawals in the days leading up to the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, chances are that a few - if not most - of the above-mentioned will get a run out in Mahé on Saturday.
Rohr, like most coaches, is a creature of habit -- one who has proven to be an apostle of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" dictum. He would most likely have put out a starting XI with little departure from the ones which started at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
But after the premature retirement of Victor Moses, the withdrawal of captain John Mikel Obi, and then injuries to William Troost-Ekong, Ola Aina and Alex Iwobi, Rohr has been forced into change.
These absentees throw up various permutations, predominantly at the back, and especially on the right. Rohr has had to deal with the loss of Tyronne Ebuehi, Moses, Shehu Abdullahi and Aina.
Musa Mohammed, who was an early Rohr favourite and who was on the standby list, was expected to be called up, but the coach opted not to, telling KweséESPN: "We can only put 18 players in the team list."
True. But what then is the point of naming players on standby if not to use them when others drop out?
Either way, the absences have will lead to a rejig of sorts. With Troost-Ekong out, there is no Oyinbo Wall. Assuming Rohr goes with four at the back -- and stays true to type -- his back-four should be Leon Balogun, Kenneth Omeruo, Chidozie Awaziem and Brian Idowu.
The trouble is that Balogun is the only one of that back-four to have seen any action so far this season. By contrast, two of his newcomers -- Ajayi and Collins -- have played no less than five games each prior to the international break. It is hard not to see at least one of them getting some game-time at some point.
Just ahead of them, Mikel's absence opens the door for Ogenyi Onazi to return to the starting line-up, with Oghenekaro Etebo pushed forward as the most advanced midfielder.
But it also offers Rohr an opportunity to throw the young Nwakali into the mix, especially if the team lacks creativity in the opening periods.
One player who should be almost certain of game-time -- especially if Rohr opts for three up-front -- is Onyekuru. His early-season form with Galatasaray has been excellent and he looks sharp after a restful summer.
During the World Cup, Rohr opted for Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho when playing three at the back, and he could well do so again. But with Odion Ighalo's red-hot form, it is more likely he will go with the Ighalo/Musa combo.
Either way, it is almost certain that Onyekuru will feature prominently this weekend.