Is William Troost-Ekong the weak link of the Super Eagles in defense?

Skipped by Watford defender William Troost-Ekong, the Super Eagles forced their eternal rivals Ghana to a thrilling 0-0 draw at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi.

Ranked 32nd in the FIFA World Rankings and home to some of the most exciting strikers on the continent, Nigeria were the bookmakers’ favorites to edge out the 61st-ranked Black Stars.

However, it was always going to be an uphill battle on the pitch where Ghana beat Egypt 6-1 and maimed Ethiopia 5-0 in previous World Cup qualifiers.

And at the final whistle the hosts were the better team overall, enjoying 56% of possession of the ball (it was a whopping 63% in the first half), taking ten shots and winning nine corners.

In an atmosphere created by more than 70,000 Ghanaians crammed into a 40,000-seater ground, it’s a near-miracle that the Super Eagles barely come out unscathed.

It’s no surprise that Nigerian defenders and goalkeeper Francis Uzoho had some of the highest ratings of the night, with Uzoho (7.77), Leon Balogun (7.5) and Ola Aina (7.4) ) the best of them, according to Sofascore.

Captain Troost-Ekong’s performance and score (6.9) weren’t great either. But he had the toughest time of any Nigerian defender.

The Watford centre-back lost possession seven times, lost all his ground duels, was dribbled past twice and had to thank partner Balogun for getting him out of trouble more than once.

Having played no competitive game since Nigeria lost to Tunisia at the AFCON in January, Troost-Ekong’s rust in Kumasi is understandable.

But can the Super Eagles survive another sloppy performance from the No.5 in the second leg?

The Eagles will have home advantage in their favor when they play against Ghana on Tuesday.

But the encounter is always so delicately balanced that any mistake could cost dearly. With the away goals rule still in effect, for every goal scored by the Black Stars, the Eagles must score one more to qualify.

An impregnable defense will be crucial for a win over the Ghanaians.

But should a better defender replace Troost-Ekong in the second leg?

Leganes’ Kenneth Omeruo and West Brom’s Semi Ajayi are the available options for Augustine Eguavoen, in case the caretaker coach considers a switch. Rangers youngster Calvin Bassey can also put up a decent performance as a centre-half.

But Omeruo has only returned from an injury which has sidelined him since February 11. And the 28-year-old would only be as rusty as Ekong and perhaps even more terrible next to Balogun.

Ajayi, on the other hand, shines more when deployed on the right of a central three-man defensive setup.

But Eguavoen is unlikely to abandon his preferred 4-4-2 for a conservative 3-5-2 to accommodate the former Arsenal man.

And only a risk-taking rookie would deploy Bassey, who only made his international debut on Friday, as a centre-back in possibly the Super Eagles’ biggest game this decade.

So, yes, Troost-Ekong is not at its best right now, but it is better than the other options available for Eguavoen. And it would be the head coach’s job to provide a better midfield screen for the defense against the Black Stars.

A midfield trio of Oghenekaro Etebo, Frank Onyeka and Joe Aribo should have the guts and guts to back up the defense and just enough cunning and savvy to link up in attack.

And with Victor Osimhen back to his shooting best, the Super Eagles can mask their flaws, defeat Ghana’s Black Stars and book their flight to Qatar in style.

Harry D. Gonzalez