It is no longer news that the Super Eagles’ biggest star at the moment, Victor Osimhen, is out of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in January.
The Napoli striker suffered a terrible injury last weekend that damaged his face and required surgery.
Even though the complicated surgical operation was a success, the surgeon who worked on the 22-year-old has confirmed that the youngster is not expected to take to a football pitch for another two months.
That dashes any hope any Super Eagles fan has of the Napoli lad miraculously making a quick recovery and being a part of the party to Cameroon less than six weeks from today.
Needless to say, Osimhen is a massive loss for the Nigerian national team. The former Lille star has shouldered the Super Eagles’ goalscoring burden almost effortlessly since Odion Ighalo first announced his retirement from the team.
Osimhen scored five goals in six games to help the Gernot Rohr-led side qualify for the Afcon with a game to spare. And he delivered four more goals during the World Cup qualifying campaign to power the Eagles to the playoff round.
His ten goals and six assists in his last 16 appearances across two years paint the picture of a striker who thrives, not only at club level but also in the green-and-white colours.
Rohr will struggle to replace Osimhen’s energy, industry, and quality in attack, especially with little time available for the Super Eagles to adapt to playing with a new number nine.
But what other striking options are available for the German tactician?
Nigerian attackers have hit a purple patch in Europe at the moment, and it appears every major club already has one or is targeting to sign one.
At a point in the summer, Genk had four Nigerian forwards on their payroll, while Watford had two. From Union Berlin in the German Bundesliga to Slovan Bratislava in the Slovakian Fortuna Liga, there is at least one Nigerian forward delivering the goods regularly.
There is, therefore, a long list of strikers head coach Gernot Rohr can choose from to improve the Super Eagles forward line.
Bar any major surprises, Genk’s Paul Onuachu, Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho, and Al Shabab’s Odion Ighalo already make up the bulk of the attackers Rohr will take to Cameroon in January.
But Onuachu is not fast enough for the kind of football Rohr wants his team to play. The German gaffer does not trust Iheanacho to lead the attack all on his own, and it is evident that age and the Saudi Arabian Pro League have slowed down Ighalo more than a bit.
Rohr and his assistants, therefore, need to look further than their noses and give a chance to one or two of the strikers who are painting Europe red with goals.
One of which is Union Berlin’s Taiwo Awoniyi. It is so difficult to look past a striker who has been tested in the Belgian and Dutch leagues and is presently flourishing in the German top-flight.
The 24-year-old is not Osimhen, but he is also strong, fast, and troubles defenders with his tireless pressing and endless running. The former Liverpool signing recently became Union Berlin’s record goalscorer in the Bundesliga, and it still beggars belief that he has only one Super Eagles cap to his name.
Watford’s Emmanuel Dennis is another name that should catch Rohr’s attention. The 24-year-old has not played more than 11 minutes in each of the three times he has featured for the Super Eagles, but his talent is undeniable.
And he is currently displaying it on the most glamorous stage of all – the English Premier League. The former Club Brugge star has four goals and five assists in nine league games for the Hornets and was the architect of Manchester United’s 4-1 thrashing at the Vicarage Road last weekend.
He can play anywhere in the front three, but through the centre is where he could be most devastating for the Eagles.
There is also Umar Sadiq. The former U-23 star has been Nigeria’s brightest shining star in the Spanish second division, and there is a reason why he is linked to Barcelona, Newcastle, Sevilla, and some other notable clubs on the continent.
Sadiq has pace, holds the ball well, and scores goals for fun. His commitment to Almeria has made him snub a couple of Rohr’s invitations before, but who can say no to a chance to be at Africa’s biggest football festival?
And there is Cyriel Dessers. The Feyenoord man is an old-fashioned fox-in-the-box type of striker who is blessed with two good feet.
The Genk-owned forward is building a reputation in the Netherlands as a supersub, but he can certainly get the job done from kick-off, as he showed many times at Heracles.
And it is almost unforgivable that he has made just one appearance for the Super Eagles after committing to Nigeria ahead of Belgium.
Another forward whose form could pave the way for a maiden call-up is Slovan Bratislava’s Ezekiel Henty.
A powerful presence in the box and adept at sticking the ball in the back of the net, Henty is Nigeria’s most prolific striker in Europe at this point, with 14 goals across all competitions.
The 28-year-old attacker looks like a fine blend of a right-footed Iheanacho and a faster Ighalo. He may, however, not have the international experience required to keep Onuachu and Ighalo on the Eagles bench at a major tournament.
Other notable mentions include Venezia’s David Okereke, Randers’ Stephen Odey, Lorient’s Terem Moffi, Trabzonspor’s Anthony Nwakaeme, Slavia Prague’s Peter Olayinka, and, Sivasspor’s Olanrewaju Kayode. They have all shown their quality in recent times and should at least get a look-in from Rohr.
The Super Eagles and their fans should not give up the hopes of a fourth continental title charge because of Osimhen’s injury and expected absence. It is not over yet.
The introduction of a reliable striking replacement and adequate technical input from the coaching crew can make the 2013 Afcon champions the team to beat in Cameroon.