Super Eagles coach, Sunday Oliseh, has defended his choice of the overseas-based players he invited for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Tanzania on September 5.
Oliseh insisted that he picked the players on merit, saying he had to invite young and hungry players, who would give their best to the country.
The former Nigeria midfielder included new faces in his first match in charge of the national team, handing Russia-based duo Sylvester Igbonu and Izunna Uzochukwu, as well as Wolverhampton goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme, their first call-ups to the Eagles.
Midfielders Haruna Lukman, Joel Obi and Obiora Nwankwo also returned to the squad after a long time out in the international wilderness but Oliseh surprisingly omitted Watford striker Odion Ighalo and Chelsea’s Victor Moses from the team to battle the Taifa Stars in Dar es Salam.
Just before he released the 18-man list on Monday, Oliseh stated, “Nigerians are passionate about football and they need something credible to invest in. That is why one of the first thing we are telling the people is that nobody is going to be a part of the Super Eagles, at least during my tenure – I don’t know how long that is going to be – if they are not there by merit.
“If you are the best, you will play. If you are the best in doing what we ask each player in each position to do, you will play. In fact, when the list of players comes out, you are going to find that there are very new faces in it – young, strong but we still have to mold them.
“Time is not on our side because as a national team coach you get the players just five days to a game, but I’m hoping with time we will get a style of play and a winning style.”
He said it was important to get players who were hungry to play for Nigeria, adding that it was also important for Nigerians to be patient for the desired results.
“When I was growing up, my dream was just to wear the Nigerian jersey once. I didn’t know that I was going to wear it 63 times and win titles. This is a nation of about 170 million people; football is like a religion here. But our people are so passionate, they are not patient,” he added.
“I am hoping that they will be patient enough to realise that we don’t have the players like we used to have and for potential to become reality, it takes time, molding and hard work. Hard work is something I am not shy of.”
Stressing that it was going to be difficult for him to turn the fortunes of the Super Eagles around, he added, “It is something that I don’t think I can do alone. The reality is that we have to face where we are now. At the moment, we are starting from the scratch because we don’t have the nucleus to start with.”
On the likelihood of the Eagles winning the 2017 AFCON, Oliseh hinted that it was too early to predict.
Rather, he said what was important was to take every game as it comes, starting with the match against Tanzania.
“The first game we have now is Tanzania. That is the first objective. But the way we can try to challenge (for titles) and better our football is to get the players playing like a team and playing the Nigerian style, trying to get the consistency and trying to get young players to play,” he said.