NPFL stars who can strengthen Peseiro’s squad
With the double-header 2023 AFCON qualifiers against Guinea-Bissau approaching, Nigerians are anticipating the list of players that will prosecute the game for the Super Eagles.
While eyes are on the usual overseas-based pros, Super Eagles head coach, Jose Peseiro, has been travelling the length and breadth of the country to watch Nigeria Professional Football League matches, raising expectations about the chances of some home-based players making the squad for both clashes against the Djurtus, billed for March 24 in Abuja and March 27 in Bissau.
On Wednesday, PUNCH Sports Extra reported that key defenders William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun and Kenneth Omeruo were doubtful for the qualifiers after copping injuries.
The NPFL is on break, but PUNCH Sports Extra takes a look at the players who stood out with their performances in the first stanza of the league and should Portuguese Peseiro consider players in the league for the games against the Bissau-Guineans, here are some who have been in superb form.
Perhaps, this might just be the chance the home lads have been waiting for!
Amas Obasogie (Bendel Insurance)
One of the men behind Bendel Insurance’s surprise run in the NPFL this season is their goalkeeper, Obasogie.
The long-serving serving shot stopper for the Benin Arsenal is reputable for his reliability in goal, having kept 11 clean sheets during the abridged 2019 season, which was also his debut in the Nigerian topflight.
Obasogie returned to the topflight with Bendel Insurance this season and after nine games, he stands head and shoulders above other goalkeepers in the league with seven clean sheets and just three goals conceded. His performance has kept the Benin Arsenal unbeaten and top of a tough Group A with 23 points.
The goalkeeping area has posed a big problem for the squad, even before Peseiro’s arrival, but if the gaffer takes a closer look at the NPFL, Obasogie could bring more competition and quality into his squad.
Emmanuel Daniel (Lobi Stars)
Lobi Stars keeper Daniel might not be totally new to the national team, having been part of Nigeria’s team at the 2015 African Games and the bronze-winning squad at the 2016 Olympic Games.
He was also called up to the Eagles for a 2018 World Cup qualifier against Zambia in October 2016 under coach Genort Rohr.
After stints with Enugu Rangers and Orlando Pirates, Daniel is back in the NPFL with Lobi and has featured in eight matches, keeping five clean sheets. The club also ranks his saves accuracy at 85 per cent, as they occupy first place in Group B of the abridged league with 19 points.
Ifeanyi Emmanuel (Plateau United)
At a time when most of the overseas-based centre-backs are battling injuries, Plateau United defender Emmanuel is one of the defenders on the domestic scene that Peseiro can turn to.
Arguably Plateau’s stand-out player so far this season, the unassuming defender offers more than defending and has scored seven goals so far this season to show for it.
Three of his goals came during Plateau United’s preliminary campaigns in the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup, while he has also scored four crucial goals to secure points for the Jos side in the NPFL.
Ebuka Akobundu (Bendel Insurance)
Since recovering from a season-ending injury while playing for Sunshine Stars, Insurance defender Akobundu has rediscovered his blistering form after he joined the Benin Arsenal before the start of the season.
Apart from helping the team stay unbeaten with just three goals conceded this season, Ebuka’s mobility on the right side of defence provides support for the Group A leaders attack. In the process, he has contributed to goals from crosses as well as dead ball situations and has equally scored twice from his dashing runs.
He grabbed the winner in Insurance 1-0 win over Nasarawa United on match-day eight, while the other was during the NNL Super 4.
Chibuike Nwaiwu (Enyimba)
Enyimba’s young and enterprising defensive midfielder Nwaiwu provides a defensive option in the middle of the pack.
Playing in his second season of professional football and second in the NPFL as well, Nwaiwu is arguably Enyimba’s best player of the first stanza with his breaking play and mopping duties while he has also scored one goal in nine appearances. He joined the eight-time champions from Heartland and has started every game so far this season.
He is currently in the Olympic Eagles camp preparing for the U-23 AFCON qualifiers against Guinea, which also comes up later this month.
Divine Nwachukwu (Bendel Insurance)
Having gone through the ranks of age-grade football from the NFF/Zenith U-15 tournament to representing Nigeria at the U-17 World Cup in 2019 and now playing in the NPFL, Nwachukwu has shown so much progress to be considered for a place in the national team, despite not playing abroad.
Nwachukwu has been one of the revelations of the 2023 NPFL season, marshalling the midfield of a highly offensive and defensive Insurance side.
Like Nwaiwu, he is currently with the U-23 team and will make a good addition if summoned for national team duty.
Cyril Olisema (Akwa United)
If Peseiro also needs more attacking options in the midfield, 28-year-old Olisema comes in handy with creativity and bite in the attack.
Established as one of the potent creative players in the league, Olisema isn’t slowing down, having scored three goals and also provided one assist in seven appearances for the Promise Keepers this season.
Emeka Obioma (Enyimba)
Although there is an abundance of options upfront for the Eagles, there are still some names in the league who deserve a look at, perhaps to gain experience at that level or even make a mark of their own on the international stage.
One of them is Obioma.
Leading the line for Enyimba is no mean feat and Obioma is living up to the expectations for Enyimba.
The striker has scored seven goals in nine games already to lead the scorers’ chart, while he has also equaled his number from the previous season.
Unlike other contenders in the Golden Boot race, Obioma began to score on match-day four, bagging a brace against Kwara United and followed it up with two other braces against El-Kanemi Warriors and Shooting Stars as well as one other goal against Gombe United to take his tally to seven.
Osarenkhoe Imade (Bendel Insurance)
Imade, 22, doesn’t just add to the list of Insurance players who are in this piece, he stands amongst the best of legs in the domestic league so far, having been consistent from match-day one. In nine matches, the UNIBEN Petroleum Engineering graduate has scored six goals, accounting for almost half of Insurance’s tally (13).
Joseph Atule (Lobi Stars)
A consistent provider and scorer for Lobi Stars this season, Atule joins the list of prospects for a call-up to the Eagles with his four goals and four assists this season. Lobi has scored 12 goals in nine games, meaning that Atule has contributed to eight of them.
Majorly operating from the flanks and sometimes through the middle, Atule provides Peseiro different options of where to play him.
His contributions for Lobi have helped them stay in strong contention for a top-three finish in Group B of the NPFL with 19 points.
Robert Mizo (Bayelsa United)
Another attacking option for Peseiro for the qualifiers is Bayelsa United’s Mizo, who has been carrying the newly promoted side on his shoulders.
Despite the tough start and three-point deduction suffered by the team, Mizo has scored six goals to keep Bayelsa’s hopes alive in the NPFL.
The big forward uses his physique well as he is capable of scoring with his head as much as he does with his feet.