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Nigerian-born stars in Qatar

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Although the Super Eagles of Nigeria failed to qualify for a fourth consecutive World Cup after they lost on away goals to Ghana, fans can still watch Nigerians at the tournament as the country is still represented at the Mundial with some players of Nigerian descent flying the flag in Qatar, although playing for other nations. Here, PUNCH Sports Extra takes a look at some of the players

Bukayo Saka (England)

Considered one of the best young football players in the world, Bukayo Saka’s aim in Qatar will include making amends for his penalty miss in the final of last year’s European Championship.

Winner of Arsenal’s Player of the Season award over the last two seasons, Saka heads to his first World Cup with more experience than many within his age bracket.

While he may have opted to play for England, his country of birth, Saka’s performance in the opening game thrilled a lot of Nigerians.

The 21-year-old scored a brace to help the Three Lions kick off their 2022 World Cup campaign on a blistering note on Monday, sending a bold statement as title contenders with a 6-2 win over Iran.

Born in London to Nigerian parents, Saka will hope to inspire England (through the group stage and challenge for another World title for England since 1966.) in their second match against the USA team on Friday at the Al Bayt Stadium.

Saka missed the decisive penalty as England lost the Euro 2020 final to Italy 16 months ago.

But he has bounced back and justified Southgate’s call to start him ahead of Manchester City’s Phil Foden.

“I can’t describe the feeling, it is amazing. I am so happy and so proud. We got the win as well so it is a really special day,” Saka said after the Iran game.

Jamal Musiala, Karim Adeyemi (Germany)

Born in Germany to a Nigerian Yoruba father and German mother, Musiala was raised from the age of seven in England.

The 19-year-old represented both Germany and England at youth level, and eventually pledged his allegiance to the Germany national team for future games in February 2021, representing the side at UEFA Euro 2020.

The Bayern Munich wonderkid is one of the most gifted young players in the world with 17 caps for Germany at just 19.

After only playing a small part in Germany’s disappointing Euro 2020 campaign, Musiala could well be a regular starter under Hansi Flick in Qatar.

Unable to inspire Germany to victory in their opening game against Japan despite starting from the kick off, Musiala’s talent cannot be questioned and he could be crucial to any height Germany attain in Qatar.

Another player of Nigeria descent representing the German national team in Qatar is Karim Adeyemi.

The youngster was born in Munich, Germany, to a Nigerian father and Romanian mother. He is a youth international for Germany, having represented the Germany under-16s, under-17s and under-21s.

Regarded as a generational talent, Adeyemi won the 2019 Fritz Walter award for the best youngster in Germany.

Only last year, the former Salzburg forward led Germany to victory at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship.

And fans will hope Adeyemi can help inspire another title triumph in Qatar.

Ugbo, Adekugbe (Canada)

Ike Ugbo and Sam Adekugbe made the final squad list for Canada for the 2022 World Cup and will both be hopeful of qualifying for the knockout stages despite losing their first game in Qatar.

Canada lost 1-0 to Belgium on Wednesday night at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium where Ugbo was an unused substitute, while Adekugbe came in for Richie Laryea in the 74th minute and showed some glimpse of class.

Canada dominated large portions of this Group F game but were wasteful in front of goal, particularly when Alphonso Davies saw a first-half penalty saved by Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois.

Ugbo was born in Lewisham, Greater London, to Nigerian parents. He moved to Canada with his family when he was four or five which makes him eligible for the nation.

Ugbo earlier declared his intentions to star for Nigeria but later made a u-turn and decided that he was going to represent Canada instead.

Ugbo’s goal-scoring put him on the radar of multiple national teams. In September 2021, as Ugbo was beginning to find the back of the net with Genk on a new permanent deal in the Belgian first division, he publicly stated that he would represent Nigeria.

Ugbo then started the process of filing a one-time change of association from England to Nigeria which was necessary as he previously played competitive matches for England U17 national team.

However, the Chelsea academy graduate did not feel wanted and the whole eligibility process was hindered because neither the NFF nor then Super Eagles head Coach, Gernot Rohr reached out.

The other Nigerian-born player in the team, Adekugbe is a defender with Turkish Super Lig club, Hatayspor.

The experienced defender, who plays as a left-back for Turkey’s Super Lig club Hatayspor, made the 26-player squad set to return — after decades away — to the much-anticipated international event next week in Qatar.

The 27-year-old is a veteran of Canada’s national team, having played 33 games with the side. His journey has taken him from minor soccer in Calgary, to Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps and higher to Brighton & Hove Albion of the English Premier League, IFK Goteborg of Sweden’s Allsvenskan and on to the Norwegian top flight;  the Eliteserien — with Vålerenga Fotball before joining Hatayspor in 2021.

Alongside Belgium, Canada share Group F with Morocco and Croatia who they face on Sunday.

Manuel Akanji and Noah Okafor ( Switzerland)

Swiss players of Nigerian descent Akanji and Okafor were in action for Switzerland in their 1-0 win over African side Cameroon in their Group F first game on Thursday at the Al Janoub Stadium.

Akanji was in the starting lineup and was impressive during the duration of the match as he helped Switzerland keep a clean sheet.

The 27-year-old defender who moved to Man City in the summer, having signed from Borussia Dortmund for £15million has been a standout performer.

The 22-year-old Okafor who plies his trade for Bundesliga side Red Bull Salzburg came in as a second-half substitute for Chicago Fire winger Xherdan Shaqiri in the 72nd minute and was commanding in the middle for the Swiss.

Switzerland’s Breel Embolo scored the only goal against Cameroon – the country of his birth – in a hard-fought World Cup Group G opener.

For Switzerland, the win gives them breathing space before their match against Brazil on Monday.

Nigerians will be hoping Akanji and Okafor lead Switzerland to World Cup heaven.

Noah Okafor was born in Binningen, Switzerland, to a Nigerian father and a Swiss mother.

Okafor’s talent was spotted when he was with the Basel youth academy, and the forward had been a part of the Swiss youth system since the under-15s.

The Salzburg winger made his debut for Switzerland in 2019. And his spot in Qatar was sealed last November when he scored a goal in the win over Bulgaria that secured automatic qualification for Switzerland to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Also born to a Swiss mother and a Nigerian father, Manuel Akanji could have been playing for the Super Eagles but the centre-back’s progression from the Swiss youth teams to the national side was completed in 2017.

And after amassing 43 international caps for the Red Crosses, Akanji is one of the most experienced heads in the Swiss camp in Qatar.

And the Manchester City defender will target an upgrade to the 2019 UEFA Nations League Finals, where his team finished fourth.

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