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Africa Cup of Nations

Afcon 2021: Nigeria’s opportunity lies in the shoulder of Awoniyi and Umar with Osimhen missing – Aghahowa

13:28 EAT 10/01/2022
Sadiq Umar, William Tessilo
The former Super Eagles forward picked the players who will have to step up and help the team perform well in Cameroon

Former Nigeria international Julius Aghahowa believes Taiwo Awoniyi and Sadiq Umar will be key for the West African country at the Africa Cup of Nations in the absence of Victor Osimhen and Odion Ighalo.

Osimhen and Ighalo were among the players summoned to the Super Eagles squad by interim coach Augustine Eguavoen for the 33rd edition of the competition which kicked off on Sunday in Cameroon, but none of them managed to make the final squad.

The 23-year-old Osimhen picked up a facial injury during a Serie A match involving his team, Napoli and Inter Milan on November 21, 2021.

However, after recovering from the injury, he declared himself fit to feature at the 2021 Afcon finals and even travelled to link up with his teammates in Nigeria but he tested positive for Covid-19 and was asked to isolate, forcing Eguavoen to replace him with Olympiacos winger Henry Onyekuru.

On the other hand, Ighalo was handed a recall after rescinding his decision to retire from international football but his Saudi Arabian club Al Shabab refused to grant him permission to travel for the tournament.

The 39-year-old Aghahowa, who managed 32 appearances for the Super Eagles and scored 14 goals, believes the absence of Osimhen and Ighalo will be a big blow for the team but insisted Awoniyi and Umar will have to step up.

“It is a blow to the national team that Odion Ighalo could not make it to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, and also the other player [Osimhen] that didn’t make it is also a blow for us, but as it is, we have to make do of what we have at the moment,” Aghahowa told Brila FM as quoted by Completesports.

“Those players are professionals and they are playing in their teams in Europe. And that is what is expected of them when you are called to represent your country; you have to give in your best.

“You have to prove that you are worthy of that call. So now, the opportunity lies in the shoulder of Taiwo Awoniyi and Sadiq Umar.”

Awoniyi is having a great season with Union Berlin having scored nine Bundesliga goals from 17 appearances while Umar has scored eight goals for Spanish side UD Almeria from 19 appearances in Spanish Segunda Division.

Aghahowa’s sentiments have also been echoed by former Nigerian midfielder Prince Ikpe Ekong, who feels Umar has the capability and experience to lead the Super Eagles' attack.

“We have Sadiq Umar who has gone through a lot of experiences through several loans, from Torino, Spezia, Partizan, Roman and then Spain,” Ekong said.

“So you can see that he’s 24 years old now and he’s a better player. He’s tall and very good on the air. He has speed and also knows how to position himself in the 18-yard box.”

Nigeria will kick-off their Group D campaign with a match against Egypt on Tuesday before they take on Sudan on January 15 and complete their group phase with a clash against Guinea-Bissau on January 19.