Each month, I offer my view of the 23 players that Nigeria is likely to select for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. As you can imagine, this is likely to change from month to month based on player form, injuries, and other considerations.
This piece is the first of the Countdown to Russia. Player chances will be categorized as Highly Probable++ (80-100% likelihood), Possible+ (50-79%), Questionable? (40-59%) and Doubtful?? (39% or less). Comments will follow each category.
Presently, the above six players are highly probable of being at the World Cup in Russia. You may wonder why Kelechi Iheanacho is highly probable when several current starters are not in this category. However, this listing is about selecting the 23 squad players and not just the first 11 players. In spite of opportunities to invite new players to the squad, Iheanacho is a solid shoo-in because no other Nigerian striker has been remotely close to being clinical in front of goal . That includes the current starter Odion Ighalo. Thus, while I view Ighalo as replaceable, I currently do not see Iheanacho as easily replaceable in the squad. Iheanacho is a goal poacher for whom there is no Nigerian substitute.
All five players, listed above, will possibly make it to Russia but they must all work hard or else they can become surprise cuts on decision day in June. Balogun is a surprise inclusion here given that he is the heart of Nigeria's defense at this time. However, I have put him in this second tier given his history of injuries which may yet decide whether he gets to Russia or not. The rest may be considered starters now but any major entrance of a big star in the coming months may question their ability to make the 23-man squad.
All these guys are on the bubble at this time. If they make it, it will be close. While the two goalkeepers here may end up being in the squad, not one of them is a sure thing for Russia. Etebo's star has dimmed since the World Cup qualifiers began, Awaziem has a slight edge over Omeruo, Aina and Idowu are fighting for a starting position but yet not assured of making the final 23. The same applies to Tyrone Ebuehi who may be challenged by a new call up in the coming weeks and months.
A player listed here is currently facing a cut from the World Cup squad. More than likely, a great number of players from this group will not get to Russia in the summer. For each of them, the upcoming friendly internationals serve as last life lines to the World Cup. Do well, you may yet make the squad, an average or weak play is a definite assurance of staying home.