Nigeria name Ademola Lookman in strong preliminary squad for World Cup playoff vs. Ghana

Ademola Lookman has been called up to the Nigeria squad for the first time, and he is thrilled to be joining the Super Eagles.

The Leicester City forward has previously represented England at cadet level, and won the FIFA Under 20 World Cup with them, but he applied to FIFA recently for a change of nationality having previously turned down two requests from Nigeria to represent the country of his parents.

His request was finally approved by FIFA in February, and Nigeria coach Austin Eguavoen wasted no time in naming Lookman in his provisional list of 32 players for the two-legged World Cup qualifying playoff against West African rivals Ghana.

"And so it begins," the forward tweeted after the squad list was released by the NFF. "My first call up and can't wait to represent my country. See you soon, Naija."

Lookman, on loan at Leicester from German Bundesliga club RB Leipzig, is not the only first-time invitee in the squad. Former junior international Akinkunmi Amoo has also been handed a call up. Amoo, who plays in Denmark for FC Copenhagen, has impressed this season.

But more importantly, Eguavoen now has the full complement of players he was missing from the Africa Cup of Nations.

Forwards Victor Osimhen, Odion Ighalo and Emmanuel Dennis return to the squad after their clubs refused to release them for the Nations Cup.

Also returning are Rangers defenders Leon Balogun and Calvin Bassey. Balogun missed the AFCON with a late injury while Bassey was left out.

Eguavoen has also bolstered his midfield with Peter Etebo, who has only just returned to action after sustaining a knee injury in October.

The recalls see AFCON squad members Chidozie Awaziem, Taiwo Awoniyi and Paul Onuachu drop to the standby list, where they are joined by surprise call up Ogenyi Onazi. The former Super Eagles vice-captain has been frozen out of the squad since 2018, when he played in an AFCON qualifier against Seychelles.

- Odion Ighalo reflects on 'dream' spell at Man United
- Dove: Which five teams will represent Africa at the World Cup?

Ighalo believes the squad is strong enough to defeat the Black Stars, although not with any ease.

"You know the rivalry between Nigeria and Ghana," Ighalo told ESPN.

"Because Ghana did not do well at the AFCON, they will want to bounce back so it is going to be tough game; but Nigeria has what it takes to go through. We just need to focus and work harder, and let the game against Tunisia go. We have to play with confidence, we have to express ourselves and we have to give our best."

Ighalo said his confidence stemmed from the way the team played their AFCON group games in Cameroon.

"I was really surprised with the way they played," he said. "I saw a different spirit, I saw a different fight, I saw boys running around chasing after every ball. I saw players expressing themselves.

"What we need is to build from that; this hunger, this chasing of ball, this players expressing themselves. This team has potential. It's just for us to build from where we stopped because we know Nigerians will want to win all the time."

Ighalo also dismissed the criticism of fans who are unhappy about his coming out of retirement, especially given his age -- 32.

"I don't pay attention to that," he said.

"Everything they're saying is their own cup of tea. At my age, I just signed to a new team. This is my 11th team in my professional career.

"I have been called up, I will take my bag and I will go to represent my country and give my best on 100%.

"As long as I come out from every game and I'm satisfied with my performance -- whether it is a win, loss, or draw -- then that's it. I'm a professional footballer. This is what I've been doing for 17-18 years so why would I be worried about what people say?"

Eguavoen is expected to trim the squad to 24 players ahead of the training camp in Abuja that opens on Mar. 21. Nigeria take on Ghana in the 20,000-capacity Cape Coast Sports Stadium in Ghana on Mar. 25, with the reverse leg set for the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja on Mar. 29

The winner over two legs will claim one of Africa's five tickets to the 22nd World Cup finals in Qatar.

Super Eagles Squad

Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (AC Omonia, Cyprus); Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa); Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam, Netherlands).

Defenders: Oluwasemilogo Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion, England); Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Leon Balogun (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); William Ekong (Watford, England); Olaoluwa Aina (Torino, Italy); Calvin Bassey (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Abdullahi Shehu (AC Omonia, Cyprus); Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto, Portugal).

Midfielders: Frank Onyeka (Brentford FC, England); Joseph Ayodele-Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Peter Etebo (Watford, England); Akinkunmi Amoo (FC Copenhagen, Denmark).

Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Fatih Karagumruk, Turkey); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal, Spain); Victor Osimhen (Napoli, Italy); Moses Simon (Nantes, France); Sadiq Umar (Almeria, Spain); Odion Jude Ighalo (Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Emmanuel Dennis (Watford, England); Ademola Lookman (Leicester City, England).

Standby: Chidozie Awaziem (Alanyaspor, Turkey); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany); Chidera Ejuke (CSKA Moscow, Russia); Taiwo Awoniyi (Union Berlin, Germany); Paul Onuachu (KRC Genk, Belgium); Peter Olayinka (SK Slavia Praha, Czech Republic); Ogenyi Onazi (Al-Adalah, Saudi Arabia).