Nigeria’s Super Eagles are gearing up for a crucial match against Sierra Leone on Sunday, June 18, in Monrovia. The match is a must-win for the Eagles as it will determine their fate in next year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast. Head coach Jose Peseiro has invited eight defenders for this crucial tie, and the decision of which players to start is a topic of much debate.
In the right-back position, the decision comes down to Bright Osayi-Samuel and Kevin Akpoguma. While Akpoguma played a crucial role in Hoffenheim’s Bundesliga survival this season, Osayi-Samuel has consistently showcased his skills since making his international debut against Portugal in November. He was one of Nigeria’s standout performers in the must-win clash against Guinea-Bissau in their previous outing and helped Fenerbahce win the Turkish Cup. It is only fair that Osayi-Samuel receives the starting opportunity.
Moving to the right center-back position, the choice presents William Troost-Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo. Vice-captain Troost-Ekong holds a slight advantage, with Peseiro placing considerable trust in the former Watford man. However, Troost-Ekong has only completed 90 minutes in one of his last six appearances for Salernitana. In contrast, Omeruo featured in every minute of Leganes’ last two league games, demonstrating his consistency. Despite Troost-Ekong’s recent limited playing time, he will likely be favored for the starting role.
The left center-back position features Semi Ajayi and Calvin Bassey as the contenders. Ajayi participated in 22 games for West Brom in the Championship this season, showing an average of one tackle, 1.1 interceptions, 2.1 clearances, and 0.3 blocks per 90 minutes. However, Bassey’s numbers are more impressive, having played 25 Eredivisie games for Ajax, scoring once, assisting three times, and featuring in European competitions. Although Bassey faced some time on the substitute bench towards the end of the campaign, his versatility as a right-back and Peseiro’s previous experiment with him at center-back against Sao Tome and Principe may tempt the coach to continue with Bassey in the heart of the defence. Therefore, Calvin Bassey is likely to be the chosen starter.
In the left-back position, the competition is between Chidiebube Duru and Zaidu Sanusi. Duru is a consistent performer for Rivers United on the local scene, tasting victory by winning the NPFL title last season and was close to repeating the feat this month. However, he remains in the shadow of Porto’s Zaidu Sanusi, who concluded another successful year in Portugal by lifting the League Cup. Given Sanusi’s positive performances, he is expected to be given the starting nod.
In conclusion, the Super Eagles are expected to start with Bright Osayi-Samuel at right-back, William Troost-Ekong at right-center back, Calvin Bassey at left-center back, and Zaidu Sanusi at left-back. The Eagles will look to secure a win against Sierra Leone to ensure their place in next year’s Africa Cup of Nations. The invited Super Eagles defenders will need to be at their best to stop Sierra Leone’s attack and keep a clean sheet.