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FIFA World Cup: Russia 2018 Qualifiers

A Surprise Inclusion in Nigeria’s 30-man Preliminary Squad, Will 18-goal Local Striker Lokosa After All Go to the World Cup?

Junior Lokosa was the star attraction when Nigeria’s German-born gaffer Gernot Rohr unveiled his preliminary roster for the World Cup on Monday. The list contained usual suspects in captain John Mikel Obi and the like. However, a certain local player in Junior Lokosa grabbed the headline, creating talking points in Nigeria and beyond. Blessed with an embarrassment of talents crafting their niche overseas, a local-based starlet getting a mention in the Super Eagles squad is sure to divide opinion. Such a decision means, a foreign-based player –often thought to be more exposed and experienced than their counterparts at home – will face the axe.

The scenario surrounding Lokosa’s selection is no different. Junior Ajayi and Brown Ideye were the big casualties making way for the Kano Pillars goal-getter. While the list is not final with still further trimming to be done, chances of dropped players being recalled in case of injuries remains a possibility.

Influential player agents, as former Eagles’ coach Daniel Amokachi revealed this week, can maneuver around the team’s selection to ensure their clients are picked. Citing the 2014 World Cup, Daniel says his decision to drop Brown Ideye still haunts him.

Certainly not Rohr. The German had been quoted saying he wouldn’t mind wielding the axe on big personalities to make room for performing domestic players. And this week he’d proven it, overlooking the ex-West Bromwich Albion centre-forward for a more promising Junior.

For a forward who has only signed pre-contract agreement with minnows in the form of Bulgaria’s Ludogorets CFA to be chosen over Malaga’s Ideye will be unheard of in any part of the globe.

However, while the level of the European game is admittedly streets apart from the one in Africa, Lokosa merits his inclusion.

Oluwafemi Junior Ajayi and Brown –are ahead of him on paper – but the fact that the erstwhile Bordeaux coach prefers the 23-year-old is indicative of how much faith he has in the fast-rising attacker.

18 goals in 21 league matches is by no means a small feat and goes to back up that Gernot’s inclusion of the local hero is not an empty statement.

But will headline-making Lokosa after all go to the World Cup? This is the begging question on the lips of all football enthusiasts in Lagos. The faith of all players lie in the gaffer’s hand who, like all coaches with too much stars to their disposal, will have to tackle the trouble of selection headache.

A first look at Junior’s ascension to the Super Eagles’ set up could be described sensational. Coaches will argue their selections are done performance-wise but some players, irrespective of their inputs at club level, remain untouchables in the Nigerian national team set up.

Five months ago, Ahmed Musa was no more than a spectator on Leicester City’s bench prompting him to rejoin former outfit CSK Moskow, a loan deal of which ended last Sunday. He’s highly expected to make the plane headed for Moscow in what will be a second appearance in the World Cup after the first in 2014. The 25-year-old holds a record of being the first Nigerian to score twice in a World Cup and was integral in the qualifier campaign.

It will take Junior more than his extraordinary displays in the Nigerian league to knock Musa off his perch.

Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi star for big English Premier League clubs – a statute of which looks enough to guarantee the duo spots in the Super Eagles’ attack. Out-of-favour Kelechi Iheanacho could be accorded a similar fitting.

If at all, competition for places will only be between Lokosa and Simon Moses with Nkwankwo also looking bound for the games in Russia.

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