To say that Nigeria’s Confederations Cup preparation has been ill-fated would be an understatement. Entering the competition as Africa’s champions, they have been hit by injuries to three key attacking talents.
Chelsea forward Victor Moses is the biggest loss. After enjoying a fairly successful maiden season in West London, the attacker has decided to take treatment on recurring ankle and hamstring injuries. He will thus be absent for Nigeria’s vital World Cup qualifiers against Kenya and Namibia this summer, as well as the Confederations Cup.
Almost as damaging is the loss of two key strikers, Emmanuel Emenike—the Cup of Nations top scorer, and Kasimpasa forward Kalu Uche.
Emenike dazzled in South Africa, in tandem with Ideye Brown, and linked up prosperously with Moses himself. Uche, on the other hand, didn’t feature at the African Cup of Nations, but after finishing second in the Turkish top league’s goal-scoring charts this season, he would have entered an important summer in hot form.
The losses will come as a huge blow to Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi.
While the period after his African triumph should have been one of confidence and consolidation, it has, instead, been plagued by disputes with the Federation, disagreements with key players and now some crucial injuries.
After their disappointing home draw with Kenya in the World Cup qualifier in Calabar, the pressure is now back on Keshi and his team to perform this summer.
The Super Eagles have not been helped by a tough draw, and while Tahiti may prove to be a friendly opening fixture, the ominous threats of Spain and Uruguay lie in wait.
To have any chance of progress Keshi will need to make the most of the attacking options available to him. Ideye Brown will look to build on his impressive Cup of Nations, but I believe that his fellow attacker Ahmed Musa may have an even greater impact.
During the Afcon, Musa struggled to force his way into the first eleven, but made encouraging strides once the opportunity came his way. Against Mali in the semifinal he entered the fray clearly keen to make his point; evidently hungry, he skipped down the right flank, his pace terrorising the Eagles defenders, before finishing with aplomb to make it four-nil.
Despite struggling to hold down a starting berth with the national side, Musa is a bona fide superstar at his club. This season he contributed 11 goals for Russian heavyweights CSKA Moscow, a tally which placed him fourth in the Russian league’s scoring charts.
The return placed him ahead of the likes of Kevin Kuranyi and Samuel Eto’o—not bad when you consider that he was absent for a portion of the year with Nigeria.
While the goals and the recognition were a very personal reward, the forward’s contributions to the Moscow side resulted in their winning of the Russian championship. This was a particularly momentous outcome considering the Moscow giants have been away from the top spot for seven years.
A terrific dribbler and masterful technician, it is remarkable to think that Musa is still only 20.
The head coach of Zenit Saint Petersburg, Luciano Spalletti, indicated towards the end of the season that Musa was his choice for the league’s player of the season.
Having forged an exciting strikeforce with Vagner Love, and having prospered in a central position following some key absentees, Musa has thrived.
This may all be reassuring news for Keshi.
Here, within his ranks, he has a talented, if not prodigal, young forward who is high on the confidence of a championship victory, and in the form of his young life, accustomed to scoring goals and playing through the middle.
The fact that Keshi has excused Musa from this week’s friendly against Mexico perhaps indicates that the manager is keen to keep the forward fresh. Hopefully, the boss has realised that the young attacker is ready for a starting role, and could well be central to what will doubtless be a crucial summer for the Super Eagles.
Musa, for his part, should be aware of the opportunity that has been presented to him. As Moses demonstrated back in January and February, a swift, incisive and devastating impact at an international tournament can do wonders for one’s global reputation and national image. The Chelsea former berth forward became a star in the country’s talisman after irresistible displays against Ethiopia and Mali.
Perhaps, with a few key displays of his own this summer, Musa—the champion of Russia—could find himself enjoying a similar standing.