Sports

AFCON 2023: Has Chidera Ejuke’s brilliant display for Antwerp vs Barcelona come too late for Peseiro’s Super Eagles?

In a dazzling performance that was among the unforgettable highlights of the game, Chidera Ejuke was at his dribbling best last night as Antwerp clinched a sensational 3-2 victory over Spanish football giants Barcelona.

Against Xavi’s Barcelona, Ejuke completed an eye-catching nine of 11 dribbles, created three chances – the most of any player on the pitch – and won the most duels in the encounter with 12.

Despite the win, debutants Antwerp exited Europe’s premier competition.

Still, Ejuke’s standout display has ignited discussions about his potential inclusion in the Super Eagles squad for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations.

The exciting winger’s stellar performance, however, is not an isolated incident but rather the culmination of Ejuke’s consistent excellence in recent games.

After struggling to adapt to his new environment in Antwerp, having arrived on a free transfer from CSKA Moscow, Ejuke has found his feet in Marco van Bommel’s team.

The former Heerenveen dazzler has three goals in his last five games and has been a terror for opposing defenders.

Ejuke completed the most dribbles (5) and created another five chances against OH Leuven. He again completed the most dribbles and crowned his performance with a goal against Cercle Brugge.

The 25-year-old also scored a sensational goal that won the Goal of the Month against Sint-Truiden in the league and netted a fine strike in a comeback 5-2 win over Sporting Charleroi in the Belgian Cup.

Ejuke dribbles to unbalance defences, creates chances at will for his strikers, and has an eye for goals. There is no doubt that the former Hertha Berlin loanee will be a great addition to the Super Eagles.

However, the question that now looms is whether Peseiro, the Portuguese tactician at the helm of the Super Eagles, will consider this recent brilliance sufficient to warrant Ejuke’s return to the national team.

While Ejuke was a part of the Super Eagles squad during the 2021 AFCON, his absence from Peseiro’s selections since the Portuguese manager assumed control in May 2022 has raised little to no eyebrows.

The timing of Ejuke’s resurgence, though, begs the question: has his impressive form come too late for Peseiro’s consideration for his 27-man AFCON squad?

One of the key challenges faced by Peseiro is the imbalance within the team, with an excess of strikers and a shortage of creative midfielders.

Alex Iwobi is in good form with Fulham, but there is no plan B for the former Arsenal man in case of an injury or suspension.

The left-wing positions seem secure with the likes of Nantes’ Moses Simon and Atalanta’s Ademola Lookman. Still, a noticeable gap exists on the right wing, particularly in the absence of a viable alternative for AC Milan’s Samuel Chukwueze.

This is where the spotlight turns to Ejuke, who is versatile enough to play as a right winger and a left winger.

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Bayer Leverkusen’s Nathan Tella has been tried in that right-flank role, but the former Burnley star spends more time on the bench than on the pitch in Germany, making Ejuke a more compelling option for Peseiro.

The Antwerp winger’s unpredictable playing style and consistent contributions could potentially address the Super Eagles’ creative void, making him a pragmatic choice for the right-wing position.

As the AFCON approaches, Peseiro faces the challenge of crafting a squad that harmonises talent and addresses the existing imbalances.

With Ejuke’s name now echoing in the discussion, the decision on whether to include him in the Super Eagles’ AFCON roster becomes a critical one, potentially reshaping the team dynamics in pursuit of continental glory.