Nigeria has provided a hotbed of Premier League talent over the years, but it is a pair of rising stars that are leading the attack for the Super Eagles’ new generation.
Nwankwo Kanu, Jay-Jay Okocha and Celestine Babayaro were the headline of previous Nigerian sides that lit up World Cups with flair and imagination.
But following years of decline after their triumph at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, the new standard bearers have been found to follow in their predecessors’ footsteps.
Manchester City and Arsenal starlets Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi started and scored in the 2-1 win over Zambia on Sunday.
It got the Super Eagles’ World Cup qualifying campaign for the 2018 tournament in Russia off to the perfect start, with Cameroon and Algeria drawing the other game in Group B.
With only the top placed teams from each group qualifying for the competition still two years away, Nigeria face tough opposition in the form of the Algerians, who greatly impressed at the 2014 World Cup.
But the narrow win in Ndola offered a tantalising glimpse of the future for head coach Gernot Rohr, who took over from Salisu Yusuf in August.
The Super Eagles have struggled since winning the 2013 AFCON in South Africa, with a team that included John Mikel Obi, Victor Moses and Brown Ideye.
The same group of players reached the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where they were beaten by quarter-finalists France.
But the Super Eagles failed to qualify for the following two Africa Cup of Nations, with the next edition taking place in Gabon in January.
The start of the qualification process for 2018 has wiped the slate clean, with a young side now charged with leading the route to Russia.
Ahmed Musa, Leicester’s £18m signing from CSKA Moscow in July, is also in the ranks, so too young Watford striker Isaac Success.
But it is Iwobi and Iheanacho who are drawing the most excitement, and it is on their shoulders that hopes for the future rest.
The pair rose into Arsenal and Manchester City’s first-teams last season, and both have started the new campaign in fine form.
Iwobi, 20, has become a regular starter for Arsene Wenger’s side this season, often found on the left-hand side of three behind the striker.
Though he is yet to find the net in club football this year, his energy and dynamism have underpinned the Gunners’ strong start to the new season.
Having been drip-fed into the first-team squad last season, playing 21 times and scoring twice in wins over Everton and Watford, he promises to be more involved throughout this year.
With Arsenal fighting for honours on all four fronts, his pace and craft promises to be crucial to their chances.
Iheanacho, who turned 20 only last week, fired 14 goals in 35 appearances last season and has enjoyed a swift rise through Manchester City’s academy since arriving in 2014.
Now the back-up option to Sergio Aguero, he scored the decisive goal in the 2-1 Manchester derby win at Old Trafford in September and has three to his name already this season.
With four goals from six international caps to his name already, Iheanacho’s club form is no fluke.
Tall, powerful and pacey, the striker has a natural eye-for-goal that compliments his physique perfectly.
If the new generation of Nigerian talent are to make an impression on the world stage, it will owe much to two of the Premier League’s brightest rising stars.
Three round of 16 finishes in World Cup 1994, 1998 and 2014 remain their greatest showings on the global stage.
To even reach Russia they will have to be at their best, but with two talents as promising as Iheanacho and Iwobi on their hands then anything is possible for the Super Eagles.
This post has already been read 1391 times!