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Will Elderson Echiejile endure more World Cup heartache?

Barely a day after Stephen Keshi named his final 23-man squad for the 2014 World Cup, the team lined out for a friendly game against Greece. It was the first of two they were scheduled to play in the USA before heading out to Brazil.

Elderson Echiejile, who had been picked as the first-choice left-back, lasted all of 45 minutes before he hobbled off at half time with what looked at first glance to be a minor knock.

A couple of days later, as the team prepared for the second of those two games, this time against the USA in Jacksonville, things took a more serious turn.

The Nigeria team doctor had taken the defender off for a scan, which showed that he had suffered a muscle tear. Nothing serious, except that it would keep him out for three weeks. The World Cup would kick off in just over a week.

Echiejile was in his room with roommate Vincent Enyeama when news filtered through via Twitter that he had been replaced in the squad by Ejike Uzoenyi.

His first reaction was surprise, and then disappointment that he had not been informed before the news was made public.

That was to be the end of his World Cup dream.

Four years on, and driven by the determination to get himself back on the World Cup stage, Echiejile has been one of the instrumental figures in Nigeria's qualification.

He featured prominently - and as a starter - in seven of eight qualifying games, until an injury late against Zambia at home saw him replaced by Ola Aina.

That injury meant he missed the final game, a dead rubber against Algeria.

Sadly for the former junior international, he has not quite won the hearts of many fans, and to be fair, it is not for lack of ability.

Echiejile has had his moments in the past, but during the qualifying run, and in the last three games especially, he was the very incarnation of everything a modern full-back should be.

Against Algeria, and one of the most dangerous players on the continent, the full-back kept Riyad Mahrez so quiet that the Leicester forward, in fine form at the time, resorted to elbowing his foe.

At 30, Echiejile is one of the 'senior citizens' well above Gernot Rohr's unwritten age threshold in the squad, but he also brings the experience of having won the African Cup of Nations, and having spent over a decade in Europe - in France, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Turkey.

His list of previous clubs include Stade Rennais, Sporting Braga, AS Monaco, Standard Liege, Sporting Gijon and Sivasspor.

This season, after finding games hard to come by in Turkey, he returned to Belgium where he recently helped Cercle Brugge to promotion to the Belgian top flight.

However, despite his credentials, there are doubts about whether Elderson can hold his own in the World Cup.

The trajectory of his recent transfers have been anything but confidence-inspiring; with the wideman increasingly playing a more peripheral role at clubs since making 20 appearances for Monaco in the 2015-16 season.

Injuries have played their part, and it's no surprise Rohr has been actively looking at replacements.

Aina deputised fantastically and also fared well against Mahrez in Nigeria's final qualifier.

The Chelsea loanee kept his place in the friendly against Argentina, excelling again before giving way to the virtually unknown Brian Idowu.

The Russian-bred left back was quick to make his mark, scoring on his debut and winning himself starting places in the next two friendly games, against Poland and Serbia.

Unfortunately for Idowu, and somewhat fortuitously for Echiejile, the former looked far better on his debut than he did in those two subsequent fixtures.

This leaves Rohr between a rock and hard place as he readies to pick his World Cup left-back.

Echiejile not only has experience on his side, but he's also shown in every game for Nigeria during this qualifying series that he deserves to be the first-choice in that position.

There must also be the added determination and motivation of righting the 'wrong' of four years ago, not just to make the squad, but also to prove that he can thrive in the World Cup.

However, will his age, his lack of pace and his injury record count against him?

On balance, Aina looks the only real capable competition for the veteran left-back.

He is young, quick, and has the lungs to bomb up and down that left channel, not to mention versatility, as he can also fill in at right-back if necessary.

On the flip side, he has a clear lack of experience, hasn't played top-flight football before, and his international football ears are still green.

Rohr's first head-scratching conundrum is how to pick two out of this three.

At the moment, Idowu is looking the odd man out, but Echiejile ought to have done enough to ensure that he's not the odd man out when Rohr makes his final call.


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