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Nigeria coach Rohr explains shock Paul Onuachu snub

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Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr has explained the reasoning behind the two biggest decisions of his latest Nigeria squad, involving forward Paul Onuachu and skipper Ahmed Musa.

Despite his phenomenal run of goals so far this season, Onuachu was not considered for the 23-man squad for this month's Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. The Genk forward only made the forward-heavy standby list of seven players.

By contrast, Musa, who has not kicked a ball in anger for nearly six months, was called up as a 24th man in the squad.

Onuachu has scored 25 goals so far in 29 league matches in Belgium, with an additional two from two Cup games.

A strike rate like that should have made him the first name on the squad sheet, but Rohr had other ideas, placing him on the standby list and telling ESPN that the Onuachu decision was a chance to give another player a look in the same position.

"It is because I want to see somebody else," Rohr explained. "We saw him already, we know him, we know his strengths.

"He was a little bit unlucky each time when he has to play. It is the last moment before the World Cup qualifiers that we can test somebody else, so we choose Sadiq Umar."

In fairness to Rohr, Onuachu's lethal club form has not translated to international colours, where he has failed to add to his lone, spectacular introduction to the Super Eagles on his debut in a friendly against Egypt.

Since then, the beanpole forward has left fans disappointed, with many even calling for his exclusion after a particularly uninspiring showing against Sierra Leone last November when he replaced an injured Victor Osimhen in a 4-4 debacle.

That he was not featured for the entire 90 minutes of the return fixture a few days later was testament to how poor of a game he had.

But Onuachu returned to Belgium and immediately returned to his old, clinical self. He hit 5 goals in his next three games for Genk, including a pair of braces. Since that hapless day in November, the 26 year old has scored 18 goals in 21 games. No other Nigerian has scored more.

To be fair, Umar has also been in some fine form himself over the last two seasons between his time at Partizan Belgrade to Spain's Almeria.

Last season, Umar scored 12 goals in 24 appearances for Partizan and had hit six in 10 before his move to Almeria in the Spanish second division, where he has 14 goals and five assists in 25 games.

And just in case the subject of his playing in the second division were to arise, Umar has experience playing at top clubs in Italy, Scotland, and Serbia.

Rohr did make it clear that despite the snub, Onuachu was his second choice at the moment behind Napoli's Victor Osimhen.

The coach added: "In this position we have a number one which is Victor Osimhen. There is no question about it.

"If we want a number two, we can have Onuachu, we know him. But I want another opportunity to see a new player, which is Sadiq Umar."

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If Onuachu's previous performances in the green and white of Nigeria meant the decision to only leave him on the standby list has not raised many eyebrows, Rohr's inclusion of Musa really set the cat amongst the pigeons.

Musa's last game was in November when he played 45 minutes in the home leg and 90 in the second of those twin draws against Sierra Leone. Prior to that, his last club game was in October of 2020 when he was released by Al Nassr.

But the manager told ESPN that the invitation was mostly for team bonding reasons: "In the list of 23 players, Musa is not included. But we have a plus one special for him. It is a special status. I know he needs to play.

"He didn't play in a team for months now and the last one [he played] was with us in Sierra Leone, so we want to show him that he is still part of our family and we are here to help him. That is why he is here."

Rohr added that Musa's leadership will be as important to the squad as helping the player himself: "He is in the list to come with us and be with us, to help us as a leader, like one family. We want to help him too to come back in the team, he needs to see his teammates again.

"Also as captain, he has some things to discuss. He is a non-playing captain, for now and he is in the country so it is easy to have him."

While Onuachu and Musa dominated the post squad announcement conversation, there were some interesting subplots. FC Lorient's Terem Moffi got his first call up, as did French junior international Michael Olise and Slavia Prague's Peter Olayinka.

Abia Warrior's defender Adekunle Adeleke was the lone outfield player from the domestic league called up. All were named in the standby squad, made of five offensive players, one goalkeeper and one defender.

Nigeria are a point away from qualifying for the Afcon, and could well do so ahead of their game against Benin should Lesotho and Sierra Leone play out a draw.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (APOEL Nicosia, Cyprus); John Noble (Enyimba FC); Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Defenders: Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Leon Balogun (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Chidozie Awaziem (FC Boavista, Portugal); William Ekong (Watford FC, England); Olaoluwa Aina (Fulham FC, England); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany); Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto, Portugal); Tyronne Ebuehi (FC Twente, The Netherlands)

Midfielders: Oghenekaro Etebo (Galatasaray FC, Turkey); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Abdullahi Shehu (Omonia Nicosa, Cyprus); Joseph Ayodele-Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Oluwasemilogo Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion, England)

Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Unattached); Alex Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Sadiq Umar (Almeria FC, Spain); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain); Victor Osimhen (Napoli FC, Italy); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Samuel Kalu (FC Girondins Bordeaux, France); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France)

Standby: Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa); Henry Onyekuru (Galatasaray FC, Turkey); Peter Olayinka (Slavia Praha, Czech Republic); Terem Moffi (FC Lorient, France); Paul Onuachu (KRC Genk, Belgium); Michael Olise (Reading FC, England); Adekunle Adeleke (Abia Warriors)