November 24, 2020

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Nigerian players set for action in Champions League, Europa League

6 min read

Our Reporter

The 2020/21 UEFA Champions League and Europa League campaigns are headed to Match Day 4 with the campaigns involving a huge number of Nigerian players. A total of 21 Nigerian players are taking part across the two competitions, with the Europa League accounting for the biggest chunk – 15, while six are taking part in the Champions League.

Champions League

Of the six players taking part in the Champions League, Odion Ighalo holds the highest profile. However, game time has been hard to come by for the Manchester United forward who is currently on loan from Shanghai Shenhua. He has not played in any of the three matches so far though he has been on the bench in all.

Manchester United faces Istanbul Basaksehir on Match Day 4 and in that game, on another day, two Nigerians would be facing off. However, Okechukwu Azubuike who features for the Turkish side is out injured and has not featured this season.

In Denmark, Frank Onyeka is a key man and has started all three Champions League matches for his team Midtjylland. The team has lost all their opening games and will be hoping for a better outing when they head to the Netherlands on Match Day 4.

Belgian side Club Brugge has two Nigerian players in the Champions League roll – David Okereke and Emmanuel Dennis. Whereas Emmanuel Dennis has started all the three matches, Okereke has been on the bench in all. Emmanuel has a goal in this season’s competition, scored in the 2-1 win over Zenit, and will be hoping to add to it when they tour Germany to face Borussia Dortmund.

In Portugal, Zaidu Sanusi, who recently got a national team call up, has been a key figure in the FC Porto defence. He has started all three matches for the team and will be in line for another start after helping the team to two straight clean sheets. Porto travels to France to take on Olympique Marseille.

Europa League

Victor Osimhen will definitely rank highest when it comes to Nigerian players in the Europa League this season. The striker has settled in well at Napoli after his big money move and though bogged down a bit with injury and suspension, he has so far shown value for money. He has featured in two of Napoli’s three Europa League matches so far. One game he will however like to forget so fast is that against Real Sociedad away from home. He came in as a sub in the 61st minute, got booked in the 81st and got sent off in the 90th minute.

At Villarreal, Samuel Chukwueze has established himself as a regular. He has been named in the squad for each of the three matches they have played, and started in two. As his team prepares to face off with Maccabi Tel Aviv, he will be among the players expected to start.

In the same group as Villarreal is Sivasspor, where a very important Nigerian player Kayode Olanrewaju plays. The striker has scored in each of the team’s three matches in the Europa League so far and will be a man to watch when they travel to Baku to take on Qarabag.

Scottish giants Rangers will be at home for the game against Benfica, and two Nigerians will be on course for game time. Defender Leon Balogun will be gunning for a third start after being named on the bench as the team lost a 3-1 lead away to Benfica to draw 3-3 in their last game. His compatriot, midfielder Joe Aribo, will be seeking a fourth straight appearance after playing twice from the bench and starting in the 3-3 draw with Benfica away.

At Granada, Ramon Azeez is still waiting for his first game of the Europa League this season. The midfielder has not featured in any of the three match squads with the Spanish side winning two and drawing one to sit top of Group E after three matches.

Group E has three Nigerian players; at PSV there’s youngster Tristan Madueke while PAOK has Anderson Esiti. Madueke has started one of the three matches and came from the bench in the other two. He will be hoping for more game time when his team takes on PAOK on Match Day 4. Meanwhile, Esiti at PAOK, will be hoping to feature for the second time, having been benched for 90 minutes in two of the three matches. His only start, and action, has come in the 1-1 draw with Omonia.

Peter Olayinka is another Nigerian player doing well in the Europa League with his team, Slavia Praha. After missing out in the Match Day 1 defeat to Hapoel Be’er Sheva, he was introduced to the squad in Match Day 2, coming off the bench to score the only goal as his team beat Bayer Leverkusen. He started on Match Day 3 as they beat Nice 3-2 at home and will be on the radar again on Match Day 4, against Nice in France.

At Molde, the target on Match Day 4 will be to stop Arsenal from qualifying to the next stage with two matches to spare. One of the players tasked with that will be Ohi Anthony Omoijuanfo, who has scored twice in the opening three matches. He netted in the 2-1 win over Dundalk on Match Day 1 then in the 1-0 win over Rapid Wien. Against Arsenal, he was replaced by another Nigerian, Leke James, after having little impact as the game ended 4-1 in favor of Arsenal. James, on his part, has featured in two of the three matches, both coming from the bench.

At LASK Linz, the only Nigerian goalkeeper playing in the Europa League, Tobias Lawal, is still waiting for game time. The 20-year old has been an understudy to Alexander Schlager and has been named on the bench for the three matches. It is expected that he will retain his place on the bench even against Antwerp on Match Day 4.

Meanwhile, at CSKA Moscow, Chidera Ejuke, a Nigerian forward, has featured in all the three Europa League matches, starting in the last two after being introduced as a sub on Match Day 1. He is yet to score and will be hoping for that when they play Feyenoord on Match Day 4, with CSKA Moscow bottom of Group K with two points.

At German side, Hoffenheim, Nigerian defender Kevin Akpoguma has cemented his place, not just for domestic matches but in the Europa League too. Hoffenheim have two clean sheets in their three matches so far and he has started in all. On Match Day 4, his team travels to Slovan Liberec and he will be in line for a fourth start.

Leicester City is home to two Nigerians – midfielder Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho, a striker. Ndidi has not featured a lot this season, after an injury earlier but Iheanacho has prevailed in the Europa League, so far scoring three goals in the three matches played. In the last Europa League game, Iheanacho scored a brace as Lei ester beat Sporting Braga 4-0, adding to one he scored earlier against Zorya.

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