Nigeria have been handed a favourable African Cup of Nations qualification group, and will be looking to top the standings ahead of Libya, the Seychelles, and South Africa. The Super Eagles haven’t won the competition since 2013, and will be hoping to secure the 2019 title in Cameroon.
The tournament takes place in 2019, but a lot of the hard work is about to begin. Gernot Rohr’s side start their qualifying campaign on June 8, against South Africa. Nigeria are ranked 38th in the FIFA World Rankings, but are expected to sky-rocket up the standings in the near future, as their new, up-and-coming talents make their mark on the international stage.
There are several Nigerian’s who are playing for England at youth level, and this is a pathway that has proven to be fruitful for the Super Eagles in the past. Because of youth level regulations, countries have permission to contact a player for representation as long as they have not yet made a senior appearance for a nation.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Victor Moses (Chelsea), and Ola Aina (Chelsea), have all opted to play for Nigeria rather than England in recent years, with Jordon Ibe (Bournemouth) being an exception, as he turned down an offer from the Super Eagles.
England under-20 side are currently competing in the under-20 World Cup in South Korea, and their most recent match against Costa Rica featured four players in the starting line-up that are eligible to play for Nigeria.
Ademola Lookman (Everton), Dominic Solanke (Liverpool), Joshua Onomah (Tottenham Hotspur), and Fikayo Tomori (Chelsea), were the players involved, and given the fierce competition for places with England, it would hardly be a surprise if all four players swayed towards Nigeria in the near-future.
The Super Eagles have been known for their ‘poaching’ in the past, but to their credit there are several players among their ranks who have built up quite a reputation for themselves in recent times. There are now a record number of Nigerian’s playing in the Premier League, which can only be a good thing for head coach Gernot Rohr.
Kelechi Iheanacho has shown great promise throughout his time at Manchester City, albeit largely as a substitute. Isaac Success has had a frustrating season, with a large chunk of his time spent on the sidelines due to injury,
Alex Iwobi has been a peripheral figure for Arsenal throughout the 2016-17 campaign, but he too has shown great potential when in action, and you cannot forget about Victor Moses who has thrived under Chelsea’s new manager, Antonio Conte in a wing-back role.
Henry Onyekuru (KAS Eupen), has been the subject of Premier League giants Arsenal in recent weeks, while Wilfried Ndidi at Leicester City since arriving in January 2017. Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea) has continued to show promise out on loan at various clubs, and Moses Simon (Gent) looks to be the next big thing out of the Nigerian pipeline.
If the Nigerians can continue to thrive within Europe’s biggest leagues, then they could well become a force to be reckoned with by the time the 2019 African Cup of Nation comes around. The Super Eagles are currently ranked as the fourth-highest CAF team in the FIFA World Rankings, but will be hopeful of taking the no.1 spot in the years to come.