What are Nigeria's options to replace Uzoho and Ighalo?

Kelechi Iheanacho of Nigeria is boxed out by South African defenders. Kabiru Abubakar, BackpagePix

Nigeria's preparation for the crucial Africa Cup of Nations Group E qualifier away to South Africa on November 17 was hit by a spate of high-profile injury-enforced withdrawals last week.

The timing of injuries sustained by Francis Uzoho and Odion Ighalo couldn't have been worse for the Super Eagles.

However, despite the major concerns arising from the pair's unavailability, coach Gernot Rohr will be determined to avoid a double-header defeat against Bafana Bafana.

KweséESPN breaks down Nigeria's available options in goal and at centre-forward ahead of the all-important clash.


Rohr's decision to field Uzoho in every single minute of the Super Eagles' FIFA World Cup build-up matches and the tournament proper might come back to haunt the team five months later, in light of Uzoho being sidelined with a rib injury and replaced by Theophilus Afelokhai.

The 20-year-old Uzoho has firmly established himself as the number one choice in the last year, despite his relative inexperience in comparison to his much older competitors.

The trio of Ikechukwu Ezenwa (30), Daniel Akpeyi (32) and Afelokhai (28) have a combined average age of 30, but worryingly, the technical crew at this moment can't stick out their neck for any of the aforementioned goalkeepers, at least not for a game of this magnitude.

Afelokhai by virtue of his late call-up to the team ought not to stand a chance. However, given his strong performance in the CAF Confederation Cup, which largely contributed to Enyimba's semifinal run, he might be handed an unlikely baptism of fire against South Africa on the back of his current form and activity.

Being thrown into the mix alongside familiar competitors means Afelokhai could be targeting turning the table in his favour in the days leading up to the encounter.

"I'm super excited for this call-up, having waited for a long time for this opportunity," Afelokhai told KweséESPN.

"Regarding the situation which has led to my late inclusion for this key qualifier, I can assure you that I'm not just going to make up the numbers in camp.

"I'll do my possible best to impress the coaches and who knows, I could just benefit from the present situation and find myself lining up against South Africa."

Ezenwa hasn't helped his case due to his inactivity at Enyimba, where he has played second fiddle to Afelokhai, and can only count on a combined 150 minutes against Liberia, Kano Pillars and Raja Casablanca as his most recent outings in five months.

His stock has declined since the start of the year, and it remains an unresolved mystery how he has managed to maintain his spot in the squad as number two.

The inclusion of Afelokhai, who has kept Ezenwa out of the Enyimba team, further appears to seal the latter's fate and ends any hopes of a return to the line-up.

Daniel Akpeyi might have managed to inexplicably deliver dramatic performances against South Africa and Argentina, but he does appear to be the Eagles' best shot at the moment.

Besides being based in South Africa, where he regularly turns out for Chippa United, his sharp reflexes and experience are also valuable.

He will hope to have better memories against his host country, preferably replicating his outing three years ago against Bafana Bafana in Nelspruit, when he saved a penalty in an eye-catching performance, but first he needs to deal with whatever demons have troubled him recently on international duty.

Centre Forwards

Odion Ighalo was made the fall guy of Nigeria's failed 2018 World Cup campaign, but a return of six goals in three Nations Cup qualification matches has seen him become the toast of fans.

If anyone ever doubted Ighalo -- who for large periods of his international career hasn't netted consistently until recently -- is an asset to the team, the panic caused by his recent hamstring injury sustained while playing for Changchun Yatai sums up his usefulness.

His replacement in the squad, Henry Onyekuru -- despite possessing an abundance of pace, technique and an eye-for-goal -- isn't best suited to lead the line due to his slender frame and lack of physicality, which could see him struggle against the Bafana Bafana centre-back pairing.

Wonderkid Victor Osimhen makes a return to the international fold after an 18-month absence on the back of a breakout season with Sporting Charleroi in Belgium, averaging a goal every two games after 10 league matches.

However, Rohr's unwillingness to be a risk-taker and his inexperience at this level means the 19-year-old should be content with a role as an impact substitute.

That leaves a straightforward fight between Isaac Success and Kelechi Iheanacho for the lone forward role, two standout members of the Golden Eaglets' all-conquering class of 2013.

Iheanacho's poor spell in front of goal this season -- scoring just once in the league for Leicester City despite an increase in playing time and nine straight games without a goal for Nigeria this year -- could leave him overlooked once again.

Rather Success, who is an out-and-out centre-forward and widely tipped to be a leading long-term candidate for that role, could bag his first international start at the third attempt.

He has experienced a resurgence at Watford, impressively starting the last four successive Premier League games and played the entire match at Southampton for the Hornets on Saturday.

His upper body strength, movement, aggression and sharp-shooting ability could unsettle Itumeleng Khune in Johannesburg, as Nigeria look to secure a point to book a ticket to Cameroon.