Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr on Monday released his 30-man provisional list for the 2018 World Cup in Russia with Crotone striker Simeon Nwankwo and Kano Pillars forward Junior Lokosa on the list.
Twenty-six-year-old Nwankwo’s invitation is a confirmation of an exclusive story by The PUNCH on April 24, 2018 which revealed that Rohr would include the striker in his provisional squad for the World Cup.
The German had insisted that the players who played the qualifiers were top on his priority list, adding that the local league players had “a little chance” of making the squad to Russia.
And Rohr stuck to his word, with only Amkar Perm left-back, Brian Idowu, Lokomotiv Plovdiv big defender, Stephen Eze, and Joel Obi, the other players included in the squad that weren’t part of the qualifiers.
He had said, “The surprises can only come if some players are doing so well and we have to take them, it will be wonderful to see some surprises. But the players who brought us to the World Cup without any defeat are the first choice now.
“The (home-based) boys have a little chance if they play very well for their clubs; you know we have to take the fittest also. In the first 35-man list, they have a chance.”
China-based captain Mikel Obi leads the squad having fellow midfielders Wilfred Ndidi, Ogenyi Onazi, John Ogu, Oghenekaro Etebo, Joel Obi, Mikel Agu and Uche Agbo.
The goalkeeping area, which has given Rohr cause for concern recently, has the 19-year-old Francis Uzoho, Daniel Akpeyi, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, who kept in four of the qualifiers, and Plateau United’s Dele Ajiboye, despite calls for the coach to extend an invitation to experienced Israel-based duo Austin Ejide and Dele Aiyenugba.
In attack, Al Ahly forward Junior Ajayi was left out alongside Malaga striker, Brown Ideye, with the coach preferring to give Lokosa, who has scored 18 goals in 20 games in the domestic league, and Nwankwo, who grabbed seven goals in 22 Serie A outings in the outgoing season, their chances to make the trip to Russia.
Chelsea forward Victor Moses leads the forward line that consists of Nwankwo, Odion Ighalo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Ahmed Musa, Moses Simon and Alex Iwobi.
The defence has Turkey-based Kenneth Omeruo, William Troost-Ekong and Shehu Abdullahi while Cercle Brugge’s 30-year-old Elderson Echiejile, Leon Balogun, Ola Aina, Tyronne Ebuehi, and Nantes centre-back Chidozie Awaziem also made the cut.
Only six players in the provisional squad have previously represented Nigeria at the World Cup. Mikel, Musa, Moses, Onazi and Omeruo were at the 2014 World Cup while Echiejile played at the 2010 edition in South Africa.
Chippa United keeper Akpeyi, who clocks 32 on August 3, is the oldest member of the squad.
Goalkeepers: Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba); Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna); Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United); Dele Ajiboye (Plateau Utd)
Defenders: Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor); Tyronne Ebuehi (Ado Den Haag); Ola Aina (Hull City, England); Elderson Echiejile (Cercle Brugge); Brian Idowu (Amkar); Chidozie Awaziem (Nantes); William Ekong (Bursaspor); Leon Balogun (Mainz 05); Kenneth Omeruo (Kasimpasa); Stephen Eze (Lokomotiv)
Midfielders: Mikel Obi (Tianjin Teda); Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City); Oghenekaro Etebo ( Las Palmas); John Ogu (Hapoel); Uche Agbo (Standard Liege); Joel Obi (Torino); Mikel Agu)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (CSKA); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester); Moses Simon (Gent); Victor Moses (Chelsea); Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai); Alex Iwobi (Arsenal); Nwankwo Simeon (Crotone); Junior Lokosa (Pillars)