Players’ exodus, injuries threaten Nigeria's CHAN hopes

By The Rainbow
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The Super Eagles Team B is suffering from an exit of players to Europe and key injuries barely two weeks to the commencement of the continental competition in South Africa

Nigeria's chances of doing well at the third African Nations Championship (CHAN) in South Africa in January are getting slimmer with each passing day as the national team faces huge obstacles along its way.

Key player exodus and injuries to squad members look to hamper the Super Eagles Team B who were hoping to make a big splash in their maiden championship appearance where they have been drawn in Group A alongside hosts South Africa, Mali and Mozambique.

The Eagles will open their campaign against Mali on January 11, Mozambique on January 15 and final group game against Bafana Bafana on January 19.

Stephen Keshi is expected to name his squad after Monday's friendly match against Nigeria Professional Football League champions Kano Pillars in Abuja.

However, the task of the coach has been made harder with the departure of key players for Europe as they seek to make use of the European winter transfer window that opens in January.

For a competition open to only players based in their country's local leagues, Nigeria's maiden CHAN appearance is looking jinxed already as players who were being counted on to make the squad are now leaving in search of greener pastures in Europe.

Late last week, national team media officer Ben Alaiya announced the departure of midfielder Sunday Mba for Bastia in France. Mba had been a key part of the team during qualification and was among a handful of players expected to form the core of the squad to Cape Town.

After missing out on a transfer to the second division French side last summer, Mba has taken his second chance with both hands and has now abandoned his country's CHAN campaign just before it began.

Defender Azubuike Egwuekwe also cast doubts over his availability for the tournament in an interview with Brila FM claiming he is keen on a move to Europe after getting offers from the Old Continent.

Egwuekwe, alongside Mba, Chigozie Agbim, Solomon Kwambe and Benjamin Francis were all expected to make the trip to the Rainbow Nation due to their experience. They have all been in Keshi's plans since he took over the job in late 2011.

Kwambe is also reported to be on the radar of a club in the American Major League Soccer (MLS) and could also depart the squad before the tournament.

Youngster Kelechi Iheanacho also left the squad two weeks ago as a result of chasing a contract in England with Manchester City. However, since failing to tie down a contract with the EPL club, Iheanacho has been ruled out of a return to the side by Keshi.

An appearance at the CHAN was seen as an opportunity for the best player at the Fifa U17 World Cup to impress the national team coaches and stake a claim in the 2014 World Cup squad.

Apart from player departures, injuries are also playing their part in the decimation of the ranks of the Super Eagles ahead of the CHAN.

Kano Pillars striker Gambo Mohammed has been on the injured list for more than a week while he was recently joined by Yinka Adedeji who picked up a hamstring injury during warm up for last Friday's friendly against Rivers State club side Gokana FC.

The game ended 1-1 but Adedeji suffered his injury due to the poor state of the pitch.

Still in with hopes of getting some of his best legs back, Keshi said: 'We have worries medically but we will wait till the last minute to see if the players can pull through.'

With the euphoria of winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations on South African soil, Nigerians were expecting a strong team to compete for the lesser CHAN title.

However, with player departures and injuries decimating the squad, perhaps it is better to tone down expectations after all.