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Top 5: Tough, no-nonsense tacklers Super Eagles coach Finidi can target to solve Nigeria’s defensive woes

Defensive troubles were at the heart of the Super Eagles’ terrible performance last weekend during the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

Nigeria shipped three goals in two games as South Africa earned a 1-1 draw in Uyo before Benin registered a historic 2-1 victory in Abidjan.

Head coach Finidi George, an excellent attacker in his playing days, has a lot of work to do concerning his team’s defensive balance if the Super Eagles must turn around their fortunes.

This is not a flash-in-the-pan problem, as Nigeria also conceded three goals against Ghana and Mali in March when Finidi was still a caretaker coach.

It’s a Finidi problem, though, as the Super Eagles were largely an impenetrable unit at the AFCON, where the team kept four clean sheets in seven games, conceding only four times.

That defensive stability has disappeared with Finidi’s emergence, and the former Ajax winger’s dependence on makeshift centre-backs may be his undoing.

While William Troost-Ekong, Kenneth Omeruo, and Semi Ajayi are the team’s best centre-backs when fit, the trio is now 30 years old and will no longer be available for every international engagement.

Finidi has almost a year before the next round of World Cup qualifiers. That is enough time to blood a new generation of defenders that can learn and take over from these defensive masters.

Soccernet.ng‘s Imhons Erons looks at five tough-tackling, no-nonsense centre-backs with which Finidi can build another solid defensive wall for the Super Eagles.

Tosin Adarabioyo, Chelsea

Tosin Adarabioyo represented England 14 times between the under-16 and under-19 levels but he remains eligible to play for the Super Eagles.

The 26-year-old centre-back seemingly has no future with the Three Lions after he was snubbed for Euro 2024 and he has shown his love for the Super Eagles in recent times.

Adarabioyo was excellent for Fulham in the just-concluded season, which attracted interest from some of the Premier League’s biggest clubs before he decided to move to Chelsea.

An athletic ball-playing centre-back, Adarabioyo is strong in the air, strong in the tackle, capable with the ball at his feet, and boasts good reading of the game in defensive situations. All the qualities Finidi needs in his defence.

The Super Eagles coach should be on the phone with Adarabioyo this minute if he has not reached out to the defender already.

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Igoh Ogbu, Slavia Prague 

Igoh Ogbu is one of the best defenders in the Czech Republic and one of Nigeria’s finest in Europe at the moment.

He was a surprise omission from Nigeria’s squad to the AFCON squad in December, having been one of the country’s top-performing centre-backs until that time.

The former Flying Eagles defender was named in the Europa League team of the week in September and October.

The centre-back was a rock in the heart of the defence as his Slavia, for the second season in a row, finished second behind Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic top flight.

A no-nonsense tackler in the mould of Taribo West, the 24-year-old will be a perfect replacement for Nigeria’s aging defenders.

Ibrahim Buhari, IF Elfsborg

Ibrahim Buhari was a consistent performer at the heart of the defence and a menace for opposing attackers while at Plateau United in the Nigeria Professional Football League.

Buhari moved from Jos to Sweden in 2022 to sign for IF Elfsborg and he has turned into one of the most highly-rated centre-backs in that Scandinavian nation.

The 22-year-old helped Eflsborg finish second in the Allsvenskan last year he has already featured six times this season.

Buhari knows African football well and has integrated nicely into the European system.

A strong centre-back, an offensive weapon during set pieces, with a good eye for the game, Buhari will be a fine advantage to Finidi’s team.

Olisa Ndah, Orlando Pirates

Olisa Ndah remains one of the best defenders to come out of the Nigerian league in recent years and it is a surprise that he is yet to be integrated into the national team.

Ndah led unfancied Akwa United to the club’s first-ever NPFL title in 2021 before he sealed a deal to join South African giants, Orlando Pirates.

Augustine Eguavoen noted Ndah’s capabilities and named him in the squad for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

In South Africa, Ndah helped Orlando Pirates win the MTN 8 Cup back-to-back in 2022 and 2023, as well as retain the Nedbank Cup this year which they also won in 2023.

Despite battling injuries, Ndah still played his role as Pirates finished as runners-up to champions Mamelodi Sundowns in the Premier Soccer League.

His calmness on the ball, ability to fit into a possession-based system, and his defensive nous make Ndah a good candidate to bail out Finidi from his present woes.

Caleb Okoli, Atalanta

Born in Vicenza, Italy, to parents of Nigerian descent, Caleb Okoli is eligible to feature for the two football-crazy countries.

Having been forged in the football academies at Vicenza and Atalanta, Okoli has developed into an all-round center-back playing for SPAL, Cremonese, and Frosinone.

He tested his mettle in Serie A during the 2023/24 campaign, where he impressed despite Frosinone’s relegation to Serie B.

The Atalanta defender has played for Italy at U19, U20, and U21 levels but he was not named in the squads for the 2024 Toulon Tournament and the Euro 2024, making this the best time to get him for Nigeria. 

Honourable mentions

  • Gabriel Osho, Luton Town
  • Jordan Torunarigha, KAA Gent
  • Kevin Akpoguma, Hoffenheim
  • Oyebuchi Ifeanyi, Enugu Rangers

NB: Who would you add to and take away from this list of Nigeria’s best young defenders in the world? Leave your answers in the comment section below!