The UEFA Champions league, some say is the league of “big boys”, a league where the biggest players in Europe thrive and shine. The competition is an illustrious and glamorous one and some Nigerian players also share in that spotlight as we see also in this midweek.
Yakubu Aiyegbeni is the only Nigerian and the first African to score a hattrick in the competition. Aiyegbeni scored a hattrick as Maccabi Haifa thrashed Olympiakos 3-0 in the 2002/2003 season. Daniel “The Bull” Amokachi scored the first goal in the new format of the competition as Club Brugge defeated CSKA Moscow 1-0 in 1992. Celestine Babayaro is the youngest player in UEFA Champions League history as he started for Anderlecht in a 1-1 draw against Steaua Bucharest in the 1994/1995 season. He was only 16 years and 87 days old. Finidi George and Kanu Nwankwo became the first set of Nigerians to win the UEFA Champions League with Ajax Amsterdam in 1995.
The UEFA Champions League makes a return this week and a few Nigerians who have had decent run so far, will look to continue in that form. Victor Osimhen has been Nigeria’s best player in Europe so far this season with seven goals and two assists. The young Nigerian striker has been in good form both in the domestic league and in the Champions league. Although his side; Lille, have not had it good in the competition with two losses in two games. Lille will take on Valencia on Wednesday as they search for their first point(s) in the Competition.
Emmanuel Dennis announced his presence in the competition with a brace against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeau as he helped force the home side to a 2-2 draw whilst also becoming only the third Nigerian to have scored against Real – James Obiorah and Ayila Yusuf the others. The Nigerian striker has been a regular feature for his club side domestically as he featured in the Club’s 1-0 win over Excel Mouscron over the weekend. Club Brugge are now third on the log behind PSG and Real Madrid with two points after losing 5-0 to the French Champions at the Jan Breydel Stadium. Emmanuel Dennis started the game while fellow Nigerian forward, David Okereke came in from the bench as the Belgians sought to get a goal.
Barcelona would be weary of Peter Olayinka’s presence in their defence on Wednesday night as the Catalan giants play Slavia Praha at the Sinobo Stadium. The Nigerian striker scored against Inter Milan on match day one as his side secured a point at the Giuseppe Meazza. Olayinka was not in the match day squad over the weekend as his side defeated Pribram 3-1 in the Czech League but he is expected to start against Barcelona on Wednesday.
Bryan Idowu was in action on Tuesday night as Lokomotiv Moscow almost got a result at the Allianz Stadium against Juventus but for the magic of Paolo Dybala. Paul Onoachu will be hoping to continue his good start to life in Belgium as Genk host European champions, Liverpool. Stephen Odey also plays at Genk but has been reduced to a fringe role at the club since the arrival of his countryman.
In the Europa League on Thursday, Joe Aribo is expected to be in action in the Rangers play away to FC Porto. The Midfielder who has been in good form since he returned from injury will look to help Steven Gerard’s side secure their second win in the competition. John Obi Mikel and Anthony Nwakeme have been regulars for Trabzonspor but they need a victory at home to Krasnodar in order to keep up with Getafe and Basel. Ogenyi Onazi is not registered for this competition. Babajide Akintola should start for Norwegian giants, Rosenborg, away at Sporting Lisbon while former Crown FC and Atletico Madrid forward, Yusuf Otubanjo is in the squad for LASK Linz’s trip to PSV Eindhoven. Malmo of Sweden youngster, Innocent Bonke is also listed in the squad for the visit of Swiss side, Lugano, who have Sasere Franklin on their books following his summer move from Sunshine Stars of Akure.
Mikel Agu has been in decent form for Vitoria Guimaraes and should be good enough to get a starting berth at the Emirates in what would be a difficult game for the Portuguese side. Rabiu Ibrahim’s Slovan Bratislava play host to Wolves in Slovakia while former Torino and present AS Roma loanee, Sadiq Umar, will be looking to add to his eight goals already this season when his club, Partizan Belgrade, host struggling Manchester United in Serbia. Uche Agbo has only featured in the domestic cups for Sporting Braga this season but he might be in line to face Besiktas in Istanbl on thursday. Azubuike Okechukwu meanwhile was rested over the weekend so is expected to feature for Basaksehir in their tie at home to Wolfsberger.
It has not started on a positive note for the two Nigerians who featured on Tuesday but with so many of them back at the top echelons of European football, there should be some shining lights over the course of the continental encounters.