Kelechi Iheancho's recall ignites battle for Super Eagles striker spots

Kelechi Iheanacho's recall to the Nigeria squad is not a surprise, given his good form for Leicester in recent months. Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Kelechi Iheanacho's good form over the past few months has earned the Leicester striker an expected recall to Nigeria's squad, as Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr appears to be developing a habit for call-up curveballs.

His 24-man roster for this month's double-header Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Sierra Leone include defender Kingsley Ehizibue, a German-born, Dutch passport holder, whose invitation came far out of left field.

Virtually unknown until his name showed up on Rohr's squad list, Ehizibue, who usually plays at right back for FC Cologne, appears to have taken the spot that would usually go to Shehu Abdullahi, and could be an indication that Rohr's frustrations with Abdullahi's constant injuries have come to the boil.

Also getting a first-time call up is Dutch league top scorer Cyriel Dessers. Last December, the forward, who was born in Belgium, announced his desire to play for Nigeria.

Despite that public announcement, he did not get a call. Although Rohr did not say why, he did admit that he was blindsided by the announcement, which came after Dessers had a conversation with NFF President Amaju Pinnick, even though he had been on Rohr's radar for a while.

But that has not stopped the German from doing the expected, as he continues the process of elimination in his continued search for a second, reliable striker.

Since stepping into the big boots left by Odion Ighalo's retirement last summer, Victor Osimhen has more than proved himself capable of filling those cleats.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the others that Rohr has tried to bring in to provide depth. Which would explain the absence of Paul Onuachu. The Genk forward has nine goals this season, but has been largely underwhelming for the national team since his explosive debut performance.

Dessers becomes the latest in a not so long line of forwards, all of whom have been tried and failed to wow, starting with Simy Nwankwo, through Henry Onyekuru, Dennis Bonaventure and all the way to Onuachu.

There is some good news for the Heracles forward, though. None of the other strikers previously called up can boast the same lethal strike record.

Dessers has 18 goals in all competitions this season. Only Osimhen's 17 goals comes anywhere close. More than his prolific goalscoring, however, is Dessers' instinct in front of goal. Many of his strikes have been pure instinct goals, produced by the striker's movement, positioning, strength, and awareness for where the goal is.

Plus, his extra bulk, one that Osimhen needs to develop, is an added advantage.

If he can bring that same clinical efficiency to the Super Eagles, starting with unforgiving African qualifiers, then Osimhen could find himself with a fight on his hands.

And Rohr will find himself with exactly the sort of godsend backup, even potential starter, he has been looking for to add quality depth to his squad. Especially with two games in the space of four days.

Both men would also need to keep an eye on Iheanacho. The Leicester man may have gone through a bad spell, but he has proven previously that he has a prolific strike rate for Nigeria.

His skill, reaction time, and ability to hit the ball with next to no backlift sometimes, saw him score with regularity in what now seems like a previous incarnation as a Super Eagle.

Many might be somewhat taken aback to realize that despite only getting game time since December, Iheanacho already has seven goals to his name.

And then there is Moses Simon, who has eight goals for Nantes in France. Add Samuel Chukwueze and Samuel Kalu, and that is a total of 56 goals this season by that frontline. It is shaping up to be an almighty battle for a place in Rohr's front three.

Nigeria have claimed all six points from their first two matches of the campaign to hold a comfortable lead at the top of their pool.

Victory over the Leone Stars at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba on March 27 could put them in good stead to qualify with two games to spare if they can avoid defeat in the return leg at the Siaka Stevens Stadium in Freetown four days later.


Goalkeepers: Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa); Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Heartland FC); Maduka Okoye (Fortuna Dusseldorf, Germany)

Defenders: Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Leon Balogun (Wigan Athletic, England); Chidozie Awaziem (CD Leganes, Spain); William Ekong (Udinese FC, Italy); Olaoluwa Aina (Torino FC, Italy); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany); Oluwasemilogo Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion, England); Kingsley Ehizibue (FC Koln, Germany)

Midfielders: Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor FC, Turkey); Etebo Oghenekaro (Getafe FC, Spain); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Joseph Ayodele-Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Ramon Azeez (Granada FC, Spain)

Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Al Nassr, Saudi Arabia); Alexander Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Victor Osimhen (Lille OSC, France); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain); Cyril Dessers (Heracles Almelo, The Netherlands); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Samuel Kalu (Girondins Bordeaux, France)