Two decades ago Nigerian football achieved its most noteworthy success at international level by winning Olympic gold, with those who made it possible seen as the nation’s first golden generation.
A who’s who of Nigerian football, including the likes of Celestine Babayaro, Taribo West, Nwankwo Kanu, Jay-Jay Okocha, Daniel Amokachi and Sunday Oliseh were the now-legendary names gracing the pitch.
Just a few months ago the class of 2016 came very close to matching their predecessors. They may have ultimately won bronze and the Super Eagles will not be at the upcoming African Cup of Nations – held in Morocco – but there is enough talents in their ranks to suggest a healthy future.
Here is a look at the west African country’s brightest talents.
International caps: 33
International goals: 0
Still only 22, the multi-functional defender – who is capable of playing at either full-back or in central defence – has amassed over 100 first team appearances at club level, albeit with four different clubs across three countries.
A Chelsea youth player, whom he joined from Belgian side Standard Liege, Omeruo not yet made it to their senior team, instead enjoying productive spells at ADO Den Haag, Middlesbrough, Kasimpasa and now Alanyaspor.
Despite being on the move constantly his performances have been stable enough to see him play for the Nigerian national team, debuting on January 2013 against Cape Verde, and he has to date made 33 appearances with many more expected to come.
Club: FK Haugesund
International caps: 8
International goals: 0
A recent addition, having won his first cap last year, there’s no doubt Troost-Ekong be a mainstay for years to come. Born to a Dutch mother and Nigerian father, he switched allegiance from the Netherlands (whose U19 and U20 teams he represented), and was part of the Super Eagles team who left Rio 2016 with a Bronze medal, where he played in all of their matches.
Having begun in the youth teams of Fulham and Tottenham he left the latter to join FC Groningen, playing 34 league matches, before joining Gent. He is currently on loan at Haugesund in Norway where he has taken on the responsibility of the captaincy.
International caps: 42
International goals: 1
The former Lazio youngster was a member of Nigeria’s last AFCON winning side and although utilised in a bit-part role, there was no denying he has huge potential; what he lacks in size he more than enough makes up for it in industry.
A midfield destroyer Onazi, now plying his trade in Turkey with Trabzonspor, is adept in dictating the play holding a wide range of passes. Many of the forwards he’s played alongside – including compatriot Emmanuel Emenike – rate him highly.
Club: Leicester City
International caps: 60
International goals: 11
Before the arrival of Islam Slimani arrived at Leicester City, Musa was the most the defending Premier League champions had paid for a player. He’s not disappointed, in the few appearances he’s made, showing the pace and finishing he’s become renowned for.
Nigeria’s shining light at the last World Cup, famously scoring twice in a 3-2 defeat to Argentina, he produced 54 goals across 168 matches with his previous club CSKA Moscow.
Although a centre-forward by trade he’s oft been used on the flanks for his country, to devastating effect. A regular presence since turning 17 he’s now seen as a leader in his own right having captained the Super Eagles in five of their last eleven internationals.
International caps: 7
International goals: 1
Another to switch allegiance, from England this time, Iwobi cemented a regular starting birth with Arsenal after impressing in moments last season. A wide-forward, preferring to operate from the left, he’s created two goals in nine league matches this campaign.
Having made his first international appearance on August 2015, in a 2-0 friendly defeat to DR Congo, he’s played a further six matches, and opened his account in their recent World Cup qualifier against Zambia.
Iwobi will hope to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, Jay-Jay Okocha, who attained Super Eagles legendary status; his club team mate Mesut Ozil even sees similarities adding the 20-year-old is a hybrid of Okocha and Edgar Davids.
Club: Manchester City
International caps: 6
International goals: 4
If there is to be a poster boy for this new exciting Nigerian generation it could very well be Iheanacho, who by the time he’s turned 20 has scored three goals in four international games. At club level it’s equally impressive: 18 goals across 47 matches.
Now under Pep Guardiola’s tutelage many predict his development to be substantial, directly benefiting the Super Eagles. In a short space of time, through his spatial awareness and clinical finishing, he’s developed a reputation of being a defender’s nightmare.
Club: KAA Gent
International caps: 14
International goals: 3
Likened Cristiano Ronaldo during his formative years, due to his skillful nature, it’s taken a while for him to shake off that tag, but he is now excelling in the Belgian top-flight with KAA Gent.
Since joining from Trencin, from where he was heavily linked with a plethora of European giants including Spurs and Liverpool, he’s managed 13 goals and 13 assists in 78 matches for the Belgian champions.
As with Iheanacho, there are big things expected of the 21-year-old, who has three goals in 14 appearances with the national team.
International caps: 27
International goals: 9
Victor Moses has not played well for the Super Eagles since the 2013 AFCON win in South Africa. He’s probably not played as much for Chelsea since he moved from Wigan. So everybody was hoping, praying even, that he would turn up the style for Nigeria against Algeria in Uyo and he certainly did.
His two goals were also symbolic. The first one, after 25 minutes, helped settle Nigeria into the game and offered a glimmer of hope that the Eagles can go all the way. The second, perhaps more tellingly, came in time added at a time the Algerians were pushing hard for an equalizer. Moses’effort killed off any hope of the Fennecs leaving Uyo with a fraction of a point.
In this form, Moses is very very dangerous. Gernort Rorh and indeed all Nigerians will pray this form continues for a long time.
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