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Musiala, Saka, Ugbo… Nigerian-born footballers who’ll feature at World Cup

BY Idris Shehu

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The absence of Super Eagles in Qatar 2022 remains a hard-to-heal wound in the hearts of many football-loving Nigerians. It was a bitter pill for the country when its men’s national team surrendered the competition ticket to Ghana, a perennial rival, earlier this year. The loss triggered a devastating swirl of emotions which snowballed into the appalling vandalisation of facilities at the newly refurbished Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja.

Nigerians will watch the World Cup without their beloved green and white army for the second time in 28 years. Only in 2006 did the country fail to qualify for the Mundial.

With the Eagles absent from the tournament, Nigerian football fans can have their patriotism hooked and cheer a handful of footballers of Nigerian descent who are representing other countries in Qatar.

Here are the Nigerian-born footballers who will be playing at the World Cup.

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Bukayo Saka (England)

The 21-year-old is unarguably the most popular name of Nigerian descent heading to the World Cup. The Arsenal winger has been hailed as one of the most exciting young talents in the world since he broke through the Gunners youth team in 2018.

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Born to Nigerian parents who immigrated to England, Saka was eligible for the Super Eagles but he opted for the Three Lions in 2020.

Speaking on the decision, the 2022 Golden Boy nominee said although he is proud of his Nigerian roots, he sees more progress with the English national team.

“I feel like I’m really, really proud of my Nigerian heritage,” Saka said.

“I always still watch Nigeria’s games where I can and I wish them all the best and support them all the way.

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“But I’ve seen the process of how England are transforming and I think in the future, they’re going to do great stuff. I feel like it was right for me to choose England.”

He has since made 22 appearances for Gareth Southgate’s side, scoring four goals.

Saka recently sponsored surgeries for 120 kids from poor homes in Kano, Nigeria.

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Jamal Musiala (Germany)

At just 19, Musiala has been touted as a fully forged world-class midfielder. His repertoire of skills communicates the diverse and sophisticated football education he had.

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Born in Stuttgart, Germany, to a father of Nigerian origin and a German mother, Musiala was enrolled in Chelsea academy after his parents moved to England in 2011.

The teenager represented England at the youth level until Bayern Munich came calling, and he returned to Germany.

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Eligible to represent all three of Nigeria, England and Germany, Musiala opted for his mother’s country.

In an interview earlier this year, Gernot Rohr, former Super Eagles coach, said he almost got the Bayern midfielder to switch allegiance to Nigeria when he was 17, but it fell through.

Musiala made his debut for the Die Mannschaft in March 2021.

Karim Adeyemi (Germany)

Adeyemi is living his father’s dream of becoming a professional footballer. Abbey Adeyemi left Nigeria for Germany in search of greener pastures for his lofty football dreams. But upon his arrival, he was too old for the shortening age range of professional football and settled for a normal life.

On came Karim through a Romanian mother, and his dream was rekindled vicariously.

Karim is a 20-year-old striker deemed talented enough by Borussia Dortmund as the replacement for Erling Haaland.

He pledged allegiance to Germany in 2021 and scored on his debut.

Manuel Akanji (Switzerland)

The Manchester City defender was born in Neftenbach, Switzerland, to a Nigerian father and a Swiss mother.

He comes from an athletic family. His siblings, Michelle and Sarah, are both professional athletes.

Akanji has strong ties with his Nigerian origin but chose to represent Switzerland instead.

He has represented the Rossocrociati 42 times across several major tournaments.

Noah Okafor (Switzerland) 

Like Akanji, Okafor has a Nigerian father and a Swiss mother.

The 22-year-old forward represented Switzerland at various youth levels before making his senior debut in 2019.

Okafor plays for Austria’s RB Salzburg where he has won three league titles and as many cup trophies.

Samuel Adekugbe (Canada)

Adekugbe was born in England to parents of Nigerian descent. He had a spell with Manchester United Grassroots Program before his family moved to Canada when he was 10.

He rose through the ranks of Vancouver Whitecaps FC and made his debut for the Canadian national team in 2015.

His playing career saw him return to England, followed by spells in Sweden and Norway.

The 27-year-old currently plays for Hatayspor in Turkey Lig 1.

Ike Ugbo (IKe Ugbo)

Ugbo was also born in England to parents of Nigerian origin. He is a product of the prestigious Chelsea academy where he twice won UEFA Youth League titles.

Although his parents had moved to Canada when he was five, the striker opted to represent England at the youth level.

He, however, switched allegiance to Canada in 2021. The Troye FC striker has played eight times for the Reds since then.

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