Sports

Raphael Onyedika and Ayodele Bashiru: Have the Super Eagles found the perfect midfield balance?

The Super Eagles of Nigeria lost to Benin Republic and drew against South Africa in their 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers this month leading to a drop in the latest FIFA rankings, Soccernet.ng reports.

The Nigeria Football Federation appointed Finidi George as the official coach of the Super Eagles in May, and a month after, he handed in his resignation letter and fell out with the team’s star striker, Victor Osimhen.

In what looked like a chaotic month for lovers of Nigerian football, a few glimpses of brightness surfaced, and although the results were not pleasant, the future is bright, and the Super Eagles of Nigeria could be just a good coach away from returning to the football apex again.

In Nigeria’s two games this month, two midfielders who are relatively new found the back of the net. Club Brugge’s Raphael Onyedika and Hatayspor’s Oluwafisayo Ayodele-Bashiru made the most of their chance as they were called into the team.

Jose Peseiro

Both of these players got invited to the national team by the Portuguese tactician who vacated his position as the head coach of the Super Eagles in February after his contract with the Nigerian Football Federation expired.

Onyedika made his debut in 2022, coming on for the final five minutes in Nigeria’s loss to Algeria while Bashiru made his debut last October, playing the final thirty minutes of the game in a friendly against Mozambique. With nine and two caps garnered by both players respectively, they do not have the experience the rest of the team possesses.

Onyedika was a part of the Nigerian AFCON 2023 team that travelled to Ivory Coast. While Jose Peseiro started the opening game with a 4-3-3 formation, he was left on the bench as the Portuguese gaffer opted for the trio of Frank Onyeka, Alhassan Yusuf and Alex Iwobi. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.

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Raphael Onyedika sending the ball home against Gernot Rohr’s Benin Republic.

The former Porto manager opted for a 3-4-3 in the next game, shifting Iwobi into a more defensive role, and continued with the setup till the final which ended in a loss for the three-time AFCON Champions. Onyedika was able to play just 27 minutes of football in Ivory Coast, coming off the bench in Nigeria’s 1-0 victory over Guinea Bissau.

Throughout the tournament, Nigeria lacked creativity from the middle, leaving the duty to the wide men in Ademola Lookman and Moses Simon. Iwobi was heavily criticized for his lack of creativity despite playing out of position.

Barring injuries, Peseiro preferred not to make changes during the tournament, meaning Onyedika barely had the chance to stamp himself into the starting eleven.

Finidi George

In his first competitive game in charge, Finidi opted for a midfield trio of Wilfred Ndidi, Alex Iwobi and handed a first Super Eagles start to Oluwafisayo Ayodele-Bashiru. While a lot of things went wrong for the former Enyimba International that day, the midfield selection didn’t.

The profiles fit each other, covering up the weaknesses of the individuals in the system, and providing chances for Onuachu, and in the second half, the goal came from Bashiru, bagging his first in the Super Eagles jersey before going off with an injury.

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Fisayo Ayodele-Bashiru going off against South Africa after scoring the equalizer for the Super Eagles.

Against the Benin Republic, Onyedika was brought into the fray, replacing the injured Bashiru, and put in a brilliant shift positioned slightly ahead of Ndidi, and scored his first goal in a Nigerian jersey as well. While the game winded down with a less impressive performance from the team, Onyedika put in a solid performance, creating chances and getting on the end of one for himself.

As Nigerians cry out for a switch from defensive football to a more attacking display, these two midfielders will be key profiles in linking the midfield and attack.

Both players are also 23 years old, giving the Super Eagles at least a decade of solidity in the middle of the park, a point worth noting for the team’s next coach.