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SPOTLIGHT: Meet the eight NPFL stars invited for Mexico, Ecuador friendlies

SPOTLIGHT: Meet the eight NPFL stars invited for Mexico, Ecuador friendlies
May 14
18:39 2022

On Tuesday, Salisu Yusuf, Super Eagles’ first assistant coach, released a 30-man list for the international friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador.

The list stirred some changes in the Eagles set-up that Nigerians have grown familiar with. Star players like Victor Osimhen, Kelechi Iheanacho, Odion Ighalo and Francis Uzoho were omitted as eight Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) players were handed their first call ups to the senior national team.

The development has generated conversations among football-loving Nigerians who had been clamouring for the inclusion of the home-based players among the Eagles. It is the first time NPFL players will be invited to the Super Eagles camp in droves since the early days of Gernot Rohr, who was sacked last year.

Yusuf, who doubles as the home-based Eagles and U-23 team coach, picked eight of the most in-form players in the Nigerian league.

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From the two leading goalscorers to a goalkeeper with an impressive record and a free-kick specialist, TheCable spotlights the eight home-based players invited to the Eagles camp.

OJO OLORUNLEKE (ENYIMBA FC)

Ojo Olorunleke

Olorunleke has been one of the best goalkeepers in the NPFL in the past half a decade.

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Born on August 17, 1995, in Kabba, Kogi state, to a lecturer father who wanted him to become a lawyer, Olorunleke did not get his break until he joined the now-defunct Voice Of Nigeria FC in 2011. It would not take long before he joined Giwa FC from Zamfara United. He was part of the historic squad of the Jos-based club that gained promotion to the NPFL in their debut season in the NNL.

Olorunleke was also part of the Flying Eagles squad that won the 2015 U-20 African Cup of Nations in Senegal.

Continuous brilliance saw him move to Sunshine Stars before Akwa United came calling. Olorunleke won the 2017 Federation Cup with the Promise Keepers, saving a penalty in the final against Niger Tornadoes to be named the tournament’s best goalkeeper.

He’s currently displaying his swift reflex and advanced positioning for Enyimba FC, who are seventh on the league table.

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ADEWALE ADEYINKA (AKWA UNITED)

Adeyinka is another graduate of the Nigeria national team youth system. He was initially part of Manu Garba’s squad of Golden Eaglets that went on to win the 2013 U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and produced stars like Kelechi Iheanacho, Isaac Success and Taiwo Awoniyi.

Adeyinka was instrumental in Akwa United winning their maiden NPFL title last season, setting the league record of clean sheets after going 16 games without conceding a goal.

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The 25-year-old has resumed his phenomenon form for the Promise Keepers this season in their battle for a continental berth.

IBRAHIM BUHARI (PLATEAU UNITED)

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Buhari has been one the most consistent performers in the NPFL this season. He leads the second stingiest defence in the league. He has been instrumental to Fidelis Ilechukwu’s title-chasing Plateau United this season, marshalling a rearguard that has only conceded 16 goals in 27 games.

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His exemplary form spurred the team to an 11-game unbeaten run in the league from late January to March as they kept the chokehold on the leading River United.

He is also a dependable goal scorer for the team from set-pieces. He has scored four goals from the back for his side this season, most notably, the stoppage-time winner against Katsina United earlier in the season and the all-important goal against Remo Stars in April.

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ISAH ALI (REMO STARS)

The well-above six feet tall centre back with the skill and technique to build play from the back has been pivotal to Remo Stars’ incredible season. A season-long loan to Ghana’s Inter Allies in 2020 hastened the youngster’s maturity, and the Ikenne-based club is reaping the reward exceedingly.

He was the outstanding performer of Remo Stars as the newly-promoted side started the season with a blistering run of 11 unbeaten games with just three goals conceded.

CHIAMAKA MADU (RIVERS UNITED)

Madu has been remarkable for Rivers United since he joined from Enugu Rangers. He is a versatile midfielder whose passing techniques are almost as well-honed as his man-marking skill. He was a lynchpin in the mercurial Rangers side who won the league in 2016.

The box-t0-box midfielder has been an immense contributor to Rivers United’s season as they lead the league with seven points.

AFEEZ NOSIRU (KWARA UNITED)

Nosiru has continued to grow in pedigree over the years in the NPFL as one of the deadliest free-kick specialists in the league. A combative midfielder with a flair for long-range shots, he has turned heads since his days with Niger Tornadoes.

He became a consistent performer last season and has retained his brilliance for Kwara United this season as the Harmony Boys chase a continental ticket.

ISHAQ RAFIU (RIVERS UNITED)

Rafiu is the NPFL leading goal scorer this season with 14 goals. A 21-year-old cold-eyed finisher with power, pace and trickery as a three-pronged weapon in the opposition box.

He’s the better half of a deadly partnership with Chijioke Akuneto, which has made Rivers United the best attacking side in the league and well beyond the reach of the chasing pack.

VICTOR MBAOMA (ENYIMBA FC)

Mbaoma broke into the limelight during Remo Stars’ debut season in the NPFL in 2016. He was named the club captain at just 20 years and finished the season as the team’s highest goal scorer despite their immediate return to the NNL.

A tireless hardworking forward and team player, Mboama was quickly snapped up by Akwa United and then Enyimba.

He has scored 47 NPFL career goals, making him one of the league’s best finishers.

He’s just two goals below Rafiu on the scoring chart for the season with 12 goals in 23 league games.

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