Nigerian players in Europe set to end football season with trophies

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May 15 (THEWILL) – As the 2021/2022 football calendar nears its final round, the fortunes of a handful of Nigerian footballers in Europe have improved with no less than five footballers vying to lift a major European trophy by the end of the season. The fact that it is split between male and female national team players, on the one hand, and all the trophies available in Europe, on the other, makes it a promising prospect for a truly rewarding season if they all emerge triumphant in their respective finals.

At the top of the set of players set to lift a European trophy this season is former Nigerian Super Falcons captain and Barcelona Femeni striker Asisat Oshoala, who along with his team reached their third half final in three years to reach their second UEFA Women’s Champions League final in two years and this time as defending champions. Then there’s Glasgow Rangers’ Super Eagles trio of Leon Balogun, Calvin Bassey and Joe Aribo, who made it through to the UEFA Europa League final and finally, Super Eagles’ Cyriel Dessers, who contributed heavily. to see his on-loan side Feyenoord reach the final of the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League, their first appearance in a European final in 20 years. These players have all contributed to the successes of their respective clubs so far and they are ready to continue to do so. THEWILL looks at how they got to these finals, their opponents and what victory could be for their career.

In Oshoala’s case, the striker has been central to Barca’s continued dominance of the women’s game at home in the Primera Ibedrola and on the continent, in the UWCL for more than two seasons now. Her goalscoring prowess has been on display again this season, so even though she’s been sidelined by lengthy spells of injury twice, she’s still top of the league’s goalscoring charts. Barcelona team with 20 goals.

In the Ibedrola, they have a scary run of 157 goals in 29 matches, of which they have yet to draw or lose a single game, while conceding just 10. That comes down to an average goal range of about 5 or more. goals per game.

Oshoala’s 20 goals put her ahead of her teammates, including FIFA’s top footballer Alexia Putellas (18 goals), Lieke Martens (17), Jennifer Hermoso (16) and Claudia Pina (15). Still, his pair of injury layoffs, which came as Barca continued their UWCL campaign, haven’t helped his goalscoring frequency this season, although his impact on the team has never been in question for the times when she was fit to contribute as part of the starting XI or as a substitute.

She opened her account in this year’s UWCL when, along with her defending champions teammates, Barça hosted their former team Arsenal Ladies at the Estadio Johann Cruyff in October for a Group C, Round 1 match. Super Falcons striker scored two minutes into the second half to lead Barca 3-0 after goals from Mariona Caldentey and Putellas in the first half. Oshoala was substituted in the 71st minute as his team led 3-0. The game ended 4-1 as Barca signaled their intention to maintain the high bar they had raised the previous season by beating Chelsea 4-0 in the final, which made Oshoala the first African to play. win the biggest prize in European women’s football. They followed that win with an away win against Danish top-flight side HB Koge, where Oshoala played just 19 minutes and, although she didn’t score, she did enough to maintain their 2-0 lead until the end. That same contribution was evident against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim at home, where she played for just over an hour as Barca triumphed 4-0.

After that third-round match, injuries conspired to sideline him from the team’s progression in the League and through other UWCL rounds in Europe for two months. She was only able to return to the line-up at the semi-final stage, where she was reintroduced into active football with a 17-minute appearance in Barca’s semi-final first leg against Wolfsburg in April.

The home game at Camp Nou, with a record attendance of nearly 92,000 fans, ended with another Barca Masterclass display that started with a first game as early as the third minute and didn’t stop until the 38th minute why at what time Barcelona were already four goals up with Aitana Bonmati, Caroline Graham Hansen, Hermoso and Putellas putting Wolfsburg to the sword.

A fitter Oshoala could have started that tie and added to the misery of the German ladies, but the cautious technical bench thought it wise not to rush her recovery and risk another long spell on the sidelines for the talented Nigerian. Oshoala was introduced for striker Hermoso in the 73rd minute before a Putellas penalty made it 5-1, and that’s how it ended.

In the second leg at the AOK Stadion, the fact that Barca racked up five goals in the home draw was to their advantage as Wolfsburg implemented a tight, conservative change to stifle their free-scoring opponents and expose Barca’s uncharitable defence. The German first team scored twice in the second half to reduce the two-game average to 5-3 before the final whistle. Oshoala, always introduced cautiously, was a 59th-minute substitute, with Wolfsburg leading by just one goal. Her playing time of 31 minutes did not produce a goal, but she kept the defense and goalkeeper busy with the strength of her football and the constant threat she posed every time Barca advanced with the ball. to his post. It was the first and only time she played a game, either as a starter or as a substitute, that Barca failed to score. But they had done enough to reach the final, where they will meet another fantastic European women’s team, Olympique Lyonnais, on May 21 at the Allianz Stadium in Turin. A fitter Oshoala will likely play and go on to etch his name and the prestige of the club in the annals of Nigerian football history.

For the Rangers trio, history also invites itself. A first European final since 2008 seemed hanging by a thread for Balogun, Bassey and Aribo, when they lost the first leg of their Europa League semi-final to RB Leipzig at Red Bull Arena. It felt as if all of Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side’s struggles to balance their performance in the Local League, where they were defending champions but behind their Celtic rivals, with strong showings in Europe’s second-tier competition, were in vain.

Celtic had taken the lead in the Scottish Premier League and were determined not to lose ground to Gers. Their trophy consolation for the season was securing a final Europa spot. Yet after incredible results against a determined Borussia Dortmund, which they beat 4-2 and drew 2-2 at home, and strong doubles comebacks against FK Crvena Zvezda and Braga, their fleeting hope was in danger. being extinguished.

However, van Bronckhorst’s side have tapped deeply into the tenacity that has become a hallmark of his team so far in Europe. On the outside against Zvezda, goalkeeper Allan McGregor played creditably, helped by the incredible James Tavernier and the pair of Balogun and Bassey providing cover in defence. It might not have been Aribo’s best feature but, in the 68 minutes he played, he showed enough courage to lead the team through Zvezda’s tough side. It wasn’t the only time their strength of character helped overcome an unfavorable situation in Europe, as they did the same against Braga after overcoming a 1-0 away deficit to meet the challenge of Braga with a hard-fought 3-1. win after extra time. Imperial Tavernier offered a tidy brace and Kemar Roofe refused to be disallowed after his first goal was scratched after a VAR review. Aribo netted two assists, Bassey was immense in the center of defense and Balogun came on as a late substitute to hold on to his lead.

It was the confidence of this form that carried them through their home semi-final against Leipzig and it paid off. The Nigerian delegation had mixed fortunes in the game as Aribo was substituted due to a knock he suffered in the final minutes of the first half while Balogun came on in the 59th minute, but Bassey held firm in defense throughout. All of their contributions were important nonetheless as three Scottish sides beat the German club 3-1 for a 3-2 aggregate win that secured their progress to the Europa League final. They will contest the trophy against Eintracht Frankfurt in Sevilla on May 18. Van Bronckhorst will rely on his trio of Super Eagles to continue his inspired displays and on Tavernier to deliver goals and defend against goals as he has done in Scotland and Europe.

Dessers also has a date with history after finding his goalscoring shoes, especially in Europe, with Feyenoord. This rediscovery was accompanied by acclaim and records. Currently, he has scored 10 goals in 11 appearances to take Feyenoord to the Europa Conference League final. Those 10 goals also propelled him into Feyenoord’s record books, as no striker has ever scored so many for the Dutch side in any European competition. Already. For a club with a historic pedigree of some of Europe’s best strikers like Pierre van Hooijdonk, who had the previous record of nine, Dirk Kuijt, Harry Bild and Robin van Persie, it’s particularly significant what Dessers has achieved.

The 27-year-old striker scored a brace against Ligue 1 side Olympique Marseille in the first leg of the Conference League semi-finals to help them reach the club’s first European final in two decades. His spectacular performance earned him the UEFA Conference League Player of the Week award, adding to his growing accolades. His brace made him the first player in the new Conference League to score 10 goals.

Dessers is also the competition’s all-time top scorer, having shared the lead with AS Roma’s Tammy Abraham, who has scored nine goals and the top two strikers will face off in the final at the National Arena in Tirana, in Albania. Dessers is favorite to win the Conference League Player of the Tournament honor at the end of the season. It will cap off a glorious season as it will be worthy of the player, who was also voted Player of the Month for November and earned him the Goal of the Month award for the same month. All of this could make Dessers one of the most sought-after players when the next transfer window opens in July.

However, with these European finals featuring these worthy Nigerians, what is most certain is that they have well deserved the achievements they have reaped for themselves and their teams. Now it remains for them to write their names in gold by winning the respective trophies and finishing the 2021/2022 season in style.

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