By Mike Oboh
ABUJA (Reuters) – Tianjin Teda midfielder John Obi Mikel was named as Nigeria captain when the country’s provisional 30-man squad for the 2018 World Cup was released on Monday.
Nigeria are the only one of Africa’s five representatives from the last World Cup to return for the 2018 edition, which is being hosted by Russia from June 14 to July 15.
The team representing Africa’s most populous nation will be looking to improve on their progression to the last 16 in Brazil but the side have been drawn in one of the toughest groups in what will be their fifth World Cup appearance.
German coach Gernot Rohr named 31-year-old former Chelsea midfielder Mikel as his captain for the extended squad, which was announced in a statement issued by the Nigeria Football Federation.
Chelsea wingback Victor Moses was Nigeria’s top scorer in the qualifying campaign with three goals, while Mikel, Alex Iwobi, Moses Simon and Kelechi Iheanacho weighed in with two goals apiece.
All invited players have been told to report to a hotel in Uyo, capital of the southern state of Akwa Ibom, on May 21 with the final list of 23 players needing to be submitted to FIFA by June 4.
Nigeria have been drawn in Group D in Russia, alongside Argentina, Iceland and Croatia, who they open their tournament against in Kaliningrad on June 16.
Africa’s best performance at the World Cup finals were quarter-final appearances for Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010).
Goalkeepers: Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba FC), Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna, Spain), Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United, South Africa), Dele Ajiboye (Plateau United).
Defenders: Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor FC, Turkey), Tyronne Ebuehi (Ado Den Haag, The Netherlands), Olaoluwa Aina (Hull City, England), Elderson Echiejile (Cercle Brugge KSV, Belgium), Brian Idowu (Amkar Perm, Russia), Chidozie Awaziem (Nantes FC, France), William Ekong (Bursaspor FC, Turkey), Leon Balogun (FSV Mainz 05, Germany), Kenneth Omeruo (Kasimpasa FC, Turkey), Stephen Eze (Lokomotiv Plovdiv, Bulgaria).
Midfielders: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China), Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor FC, Turkey), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England), Oghenekaro Etebo (UD Las Palmas, Spain), John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Israel), Uche Agbo (Standard Liege, Belgium), Joel Obi (Torino FC, Italy), Mikel Agu (Bursaspor FC, Turkey).
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow, Russia), Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England), Moses Simon (KAA Gent, Belgium), Victor Moses (Chelsea FC, England), Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai, China), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal FC, England), Nwankwo Simeon (Crotone FC, Italy), Junior Lokosa (Kano Pillars).
(Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and John O’Brien)