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Young Stars Who Could Take Nigeria Forward

There is no question that the future is bright for the Super Eagles, with a number of players showing real signs of developing into real stars who could make a big impact. New manager Gernot Rohr will be more than happy to have taken control of a squad that has an excellent balance of youth and experience, with the former proving that Nigeria are still able of producing talented players through the academy systems. The recent 2-1 victory in Zambia was not only the best possible start for the Super Eagles in their tough 2018 World Cup Qualifying group, but also illustrated the level of potential that Rohr has at his disposal. Coral have made Nigeria favourites to win their next match against Algeria in Port Harcourt, but although the current squad has an average age of just 23, there are three players that stand out amongst a new golden generation.

Kelechi Iheanacho

Kelechi Iheanacho celebrates scoring for Manchester City
Kelechi Iheanacho celebrates scoring for Manchester City
There appears no end to Kelechi Iheanacho’s rise to prominence, with the 20-year-old continuing to make a real name for himself for club and country. A graduate of the Taye Academy in Owerri, Iheanacho has not looked back after being named the Most Promising Talent of the Year at the CAF Awards in 2013; scoring eight goals in just seven games at Under 17 level for the Super Eagles was a clear indication that he was destined for a big future in football. The striker was named the best player as Nigeria won the Under 17 World Cup in 2013, but although Iheanacho was unable to make an impact at the 2015 Under 20 World Cup, he has shot to prominence at the front of a new wave of Super Eagles coming through the ranks. The calmness he showed to finish off a wonderful move by rounding the goalkeeper and scoring from a tight angle in the 2-1 win against Zambia took him to four goals in just six matches for Nigeria at senior level, and with Iheanacho possessing great pace, awareness and clinical finishing ability in the box at such a young age, he could follow in the footsteps of Rashidi Yekini and Nwankwo Kanu as one of the best strikers to represent the Super Eagles.

His domestic career has also received a considerable boost thanks to the arrival of Pep Guardiola as Manchester City manager. There is no doubt that Iheanacho can fulfil his undoubted potential under one of the best managers in world football, and although the young star is unlikely to dislodge Sergio Aguero in attack, the 20-year-old has proved he has what it takes to succeed in the Premier League. Three goals in as many games, including a crucial goal in the 2-1 win against city rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford, saw Iheanacho take his opportunity after Aguero was suspended, and while he may be utilised as an impact substitute, Guardiola knows he has a real star of the future to call upon.

Alex Iwobi

Alex Iwobi celebrates scoring for Arsenal
Alex Iwobi celebrates scoring for Arsenal
Another young star who has enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence is Alex Iwobi, with the 20-year-old winger not only establishing himself as a first-team regular with Premier League side Arsenal, but also making an impact with Nigeria after choosing to represent the Super Eagles over England. His decision has proved to be a shrewd one, with the Lagos-born star bringing considerable pace, skill and technique to the table to increase the threat that Nigeria pose going forward. Fans will hope that his first goal for the country against Zambia will be the first of many, and although Iwobi may be the first to admit that he still needs to work on his finishing, he has the raw ability to become a big part of Nigeria’s future.

Arsene Wenger has placed his faith in Iwobi to harness his potential and produce the goods, with Arsenal’s fluid system allowing the winger to cut inside and become a second number ten alongside Mesut Ozil. He is likely to slot back into the first team for Arsenal’s upcoming game with Swansea in which fans can start Saturday with a free-bet to back him to fire the Gunners towards three points with Coral. Iwobi will certainly be good value to get on the score-sheet and be worth a free bet of its own, but while he may play different roles for club and country, his raw ability should allow him to shine. Rohr may choose to utilise Iwobi’s pace as a winger who sticks to the line and provides service to Iheanacho and Ideye Brown in the box, but his composed volleyed finish after Zambia failed to clear a long throw-in proved that there is much more to his game. He and Iheanacho have shown signs of developing an excellent understanding that could carry the Super Eagles forward, and although the striker may grab most of the headlines, Iwobi’s role should not be overlooked if he continues to show his undoubted potential on the pitch.

Onyinye Ndidi

Onyinye Ndidi
Onyinye Ndidi
Iheanacho was not the only member of Nigeria’s Under 20 World Cup squad in 2015 who was left disappointed after returning home empty handed, with 19-year-old Onyinye Ndidi another Super Eagles prodigy who has forced his team into the senior team. Although Ndidi, who offers versatility as a centre-back, right-back or defensive midfielder, did not travel to Brazil as part of the team that finished third at the Olympics this summer despite being selected in the provisional 35-man squad, his rise to prominence has been more than impressive. After joining Genk in Belgium from Nathaniel Boys in January 2015, Ndidi enjoyed a superb breakthrough season in 2015/2016 as team not only won the title, but a moment of brilliance against Club Brugge in a Play-Off fixture in which he knocked a ball over an opponent’s head before unleashing a ferocious volley into the top corner from outside the penalty area was named as goal of the season.

His talent was instantly apparent as Ndidi was named the third best young player in Belgium and has now become an established member of the Genk side at the age of just 19. Ndidi also make his breakthrough for the Super Eagles senior team in the same season, as he made his debut in the 2-0 friendly defeat against Congo last October. The young star has gone on to pick up five more caps, including a good performance at right back in the recent victory in Zambia, and if Ndidi continues to develop his game, he could become a top quality player for club and country.

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