Nigeria: The Four Nigerian Players Left in UEFA Competitions
All four are European quarterfinal rookies with almost zero experience of the pressure at this stage
After the round of 16 in the three European football competitions–UEFA Champions League, Europa League, and Conference League–were all played this week, we have only four Nigerian players left in the three tournaments as they seek to join a select list of winners.
Four is the number, similar to the number that played in last season’s finals in the Europa League and Conference League, though none of the players won.
Joe Aribo, Leon Balogun, and Calvin Bassey all played for Rangers in the final against Eintracht Frankfurt, while in the Europa League, Cyriel Dessers lost with Feyenoord against Roma in the Conference League final.
Going into the knockout stages of the competitions, there were six Nigerian players present before being trimmed to four.
At the Europa League knockout stage, the likes of Bassey at Ajax, Moses Simon at Nantes, Mark Nnamdi Ugboh at FC Midtjylland, and Victor Boniface at Union St. Gilliose, were the players representing Nigeria, but of the four, only Boniface remains in the competition.
Samuel Chukwueze of Villareal, Terem Moffi of Nice, Rasheed Akanbi and Origbaajo Ismailia for Sheriff Tiraspol, and Gift Orban for Gent all played in the knockout stage of the Europa Conference League, but only Moffi and Orban qualified to the last eight.
Meanwhile, Victor Osimhen, who plays for Napoli, is the only Nigerian left in the Champions League.
Victor Osimhen (Napoli)
Osimhen is undoubtedly having his best season. With his outstanding form in Serie A, the 24-year-old is also demonstrating his ability to score goals in Europe’s premier competition, the Champions League.
The Nigerian forward’s brace against Frankfurt last Wednesday paved the way for Napoli to reach their first-ever Champions League quarterfinal. Osimhen’s goals in the double-header also made him the club’s first player to score in both legs of a European game.
Osimhen has scored four goals in five Champions League appearances for the Partenopei this season, and his combination with Khvica Kvaratskhelia is one reason they are a dark horse to lift the big-eared trophy in Istanbul in June.Osimhen was recently named the best foreign athlete in Italy, and he is just three goals from reaching George Weah’s record of 46 goals scored by an African in Serie A.
Terem Moffi (Nice)
Since the 23-year-old Moffi moved to the French league from Belgian side Kortrijk in 2020, the Super Eagles’ forward reputation has continued to rise.
The January transfer window, where he had multiple offers from France, and outside, attests to his burgeoning reputation.
He led Lorient to the top of the table at some point during the 2022/23 season, and Nice are unbeaten since he completed his loan transfer.Moffi scored 12 goals before joining Nice on a season-long loan with the option to buy at the end of the season. He has four goals and two assists in eight appearances for Nice.
But despite having three Ligue 1 seasons under his belt, this is Moffi’s debut season in Europe, and he registered his first goal in the 3-1 win over Sheriff Tiraspol on Thursday and also hit the pot before Billal Brahimi gobbled up the rebound.
Gift Orban (Gent)
The fourth Nigerian is Orban, and he is also new to this stage of the competition. The 20-year-old arrived at the Belgian side KAA Gent from the Norwegian club, Stabaek FC, on 31 January 2023.
On Thursday, Orban set a UEFA record with a hat trick in three minutes and 25 seconds against Istanbul Basaksehir in just his fourth appearance in the Conference League for Gent. He thus obliterated Mohamed Salah’s record of scoring a hat trick in six minutes and 12 seconds against Rangers in the Champions League this season.
Orban entered UEFA’s record books with a three minutes and 25 seconds hat trick against Istanbul Basaksehir on Thursday.
Victor Boniface (Union St. Gilloise)
Another new name is Boniface, and, just like Orban, Belgium has become a launching pad of sorts with Union St. Gilloise.
The 22-year-old forward has scored five goals in eight appearances for his Belgian club in the Europa League to stay second to Manchester United striker, Marcus Rashford, who has six goals.
He has also scored seven goals and five assists in 26 appearances in the Jupiler Pro League.
Boniface’s brace and assist in the round of 16 double-header against the German side, Union Berlin, sent the Belgian side to the quarterfinals of the Europa League, the first ever in the club’s 58-year history.