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Sports News of Saturday, 25 December 2021


Paul Onuachu: A crashed AFCON dream

Genk striker, Paul Onuachu Genk striker, Paul Onuachu

With in form Napoli striker, Victor Osimhen still in doubt for the Africa Cup of Nations slated for Cameroon and Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho’s dip in form, all eyes are on Nigeria’s leading scorer in Europe, Paul Onuachu to spearhead the Super Eagles attack in the biennial competition next year. It would not be as the Genk striker limped out of the field in his club last game and has been ruled out for four weeks, which has put paid his AFCON dream

Genk striker, Paul Onuachu is a major doubt for January’s Africa Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon after the 27-year-old suffered a hamstring injury during his club’s 1-1 draw with Royal Antwerp in Jupiler League action on Sunday.

With the injury, Onuachu has been ruled out for up to four weeks, with the Nations Cup set to kick off in 15 days’ time.

“He suffered a muscle tear. I already had the feeling that I had to replace him, but he said he could continue.” Genk manager Bernd Storck told Belgian newspaper Sporza.
“And then he suffered a hamstring injury during a spurt. He will not be able to play for the next three, four weeks.”

His injury is another blow to Nigeria ahead of the tournament, which begins on January 9, as the Super Eagles sweat over the availability of Napoli’s Victor Osimhen and Watford midfielder Oghenekaro Peter Etebo.
Onuachu, who has scored 12 league goals so far this season, was almost certainly going to be on the provisional squad list of interim Nigeria coach Austin Eguavoen.

His injury could mean that in form Union Berlin striker, Taiwo Awoniyi and Emmanuel Dennis of Watford are named in the preliminary squad.

Onuachu, who was the top African scorer in Europe last season with 33 goals, was expected to play a prominent role for the three-time African champions in Cameroon.
In March 2019, Onuachu scored Nigeria’s fastest-ever international goal against Egypt on his full debut, which helped the Super Eagles to their first victory over the Pharaohs in 29 years.

He then had to wait two years for his second goal, and this time he scrambled in Nigeria’s winner deep into injury time as they beat Benin 1-0 in Porto Novo in March to celebrate qualification to the 2021 Nations Cup.
Three days later, he scored his third international goal in 10 appearances and helped Nigeria coast to a 3-0 win over Lesotho as they wrapped up their qualifying campaign unbeaten, finishing top of Group L.
In the absence of Osimhen, Onuachu had a good chance and would have fancied his chances considering the fact he started Nigeria’s opener at the AFCON back in 2019 as well.

Onuachu may be in good scoring form in his club career, but his international performances have left a lot to be desired. His tally of three in 17 for the Super Eagles tells its own story, and even though it is worth acknowledging that only six of those were starts, the quality of his play has hardly promised better. More than anything else, it is impossible to escape the sense that he simply does not fit.

Part of that is not his fault, of course. You know what you are getting with a two metre-tall centre-forward, and you understand implicitly the imperatives that this profile of striker places on you stylistically. However, it is one thing to know what to do, and quite another to consider the trade-off worthwhile in the grand scheme. To optimise for such a unique player comes with its own problems and questions.

These are questions that Augustine Eguavoen might now be spared if Onuachu is unable to nurse back to health in good time to make the squad. Being pressed for time to synthesise a winning formula, the 56-year-old could do with having some of the tough decisions taken out of his hands.

Onuachu is a good option to have, but is by no means an absolutely essential asset. While a place at the AFCON and the possibility of a starting spot could have offered him a chance to redeem himself in tournament play after the debacle that was his showing against Burundi over two years ago, his absence would hardly be terminal for Nigeria’s prospects in Cameroon. It might even be helpful to not have the distraction at all.

Nigeria start their Nations Cup Group D campaign against seven-time champions Egypt on January 11 in Garoua before facing Sudan four days later and Guinea-Bissau on 19 January.