When Super Eagles Eagles coach Gernot Rohr named Odion Ighalo in his team to face Seychelles in a 2019 African Cup of Nations qualifier, it sparked debates among football fans in the West African country.
The Changchun Yatai man who was largely bashed for this unimpressive showing for the team during the 2018 World Cup, now has another chance to redeem himself.
Taking China By Storm
Ighalo, since he returned from the World Cup, has bagged eight goals in as many games for his club – making him the most in-form Nigerian striker.
This year alone, the former Watford man has scored 16 goals in 27 games in the Asian nation.
Last season, he recorded 15 goals in 27 games.
Prior to his call-up by Eagles in 2016, Ighalo was instrumental to Watford’s promotion to the English Premier League during the 2014/2015 season.
The following season, he scored 15 goals in 37 appearances for the English side. In fact, he was a hero, netting 25 goals in the 2015 calendar year (a record unmatched across all strata of English football).
Firing Blank For The West Africans
However, the former Hornets’ player has largely failed to provide such firepower when in the green and white colors of the West Africans.
Since his call-up to the Nigerian team, Ighalo has only found the net four times in 21 matches.
Barring his strike against Cameroon in a friendly encounter in October 2015, and a 2018 World Cup qualifier in 2017, Ighalo netted his other goals in wins with teams which many do not consider as tough enough – Chad in June 2015 and Luxembourg in May 2016.
On the whole, he has an average of 0.19 goal a game; that is one goal in every 5.25 games for Nigeria.
Bashed For Fluffing The Lines In Russia
Following his misses in Nigeria’s last group game against Argentina at the World Cup in Russia, Ighalo was the subject of criticisms by Nigerians.
The 2-1 defeat meant the team crashed out of the competition when they needed just a draw to secure passage to the round of 16 in Russia.
He admitted his failure to take chances against the South Americans during the World Cup encounter.
“I take responsibility for this game because if I had taken those chances I had, that would have made it a different ball game now,” the Edo-born forward said.
“I missed a couple of chances that would have finished the game but that’s football because sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”
Rohr Keeping Faith With The Ex-Watford Hitman
Nigeria’s head coach Rohr has, however, stood to the defense of the striker after he released the team list for the clash with the East Africans on Saturday.
“I want to give him the opportunity to prove to the fans that he can still score the goals,” the German coach said. “He was scored a lot of goals in China and he scored again last week.
“I want to give him the opportunity to show to all his critics that he is still able to do well with us and to score the goals.”
Not Many Were As Lucky As Ighalo With The Eagles
The Ajegunle-raised man is lucky enough to get a recall to the fold after fluffing the lines against the Abiscelete in Russia.
At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Yakubu Aiyegbeni side-footed a goal-bound chance against South Korea.
That was the end of his career with the Eagles, just as Godwin Odiye who netted an own goal that cost Nigeria a berth at the 1978 World Cup.
Age, Competition Not On His Side
At 29, Ighalo does not have the luxury of time and his case may well be compounded by the young players on hand to take up the job in the Eagles team.
After failing to find his rhythm in the 1994 African champions’ first game against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup, Rohr went for the attacking pair of Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa.
Iheanacho, 21 and Musa still 26, means they have more time on their side.
The latter did not fail in delivering when it mattered – he grabbed two goals as Nigeria mauled Iceland 2-0 in their second game at the competition.
Iheanacho has had a more impressive showing in goal for the West Africans. He has scored in every 2.5 matches for the three-time African champions.
Although one could argue that he began his Super Eagles career late, it is perhaps the more reason he needs to step up his game and fill the gap left by Emmanuel Emenike since his bow from the team.
Having taken the Chinese Super League by storm, one expects that Odion Ighalo transfers that same light to lead Nigeria as they run for a place at the next Afcon in neighboring Cameroon.
With 16 goals in 21 games in China since the turn of the year, Ighalo is undeniably Nigeria’s most in-form forward.
But to regain the faith of the team’s handlers and the fans’ deflating confidence means the former Granada man needs to bring his A-game on board to the Eagles against the lowly-ranked Pirates.
As Rohr noted, Ighalo must show in Seychelles that he “can score the goals” for the Eagles.
Anything short of that in Victoria, the striker might just be bidding farewell to the team.