By Sulaiman Alao:
IHEANACHO TARGETS FIRST TROPHY IN ENGLAND
—As Manchester City battle Liverpool in League Cup final
While the rest of his Nigerian compatriots in England will be strutting their stuff in league matches with their respective clubsides, Kelechi Iheanacho will be targeting his first piece silverware with Manchester City when they file out against Liverpool on Sunday in the League Cup (also referred to as the Capital One Cup) final billed for the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium.
Iheanacho has progressed rapidly as a youth prodigy after being named in the Manchester City first team at the start of the season and has made the best of the opportunity by posting good performances whenever he gets the chance to don the sky-blue jersey of the Citizens. Only last Wednesday, the 23-year old striker got his debut game in the UEFA Champions League making cameo appearance for Man City after coming on for Sergio Aguero in a Round of 16 tie against host team Dynamo Kiev which the Citizens won 3-1.
Liverpool boast of better record in the League Cup having won the trophy a record 8 times while Man City had won the Cup 3 times in the past. However, Man City go into this tie on better form currently than Liverpool if their standing in the league is anything to go by. The Citizens are 4th on the league table with 47 points while the Reds are 8th on the log with 38 points. And while the coach Manuel Pellegrini-led City can also boast of more star players in their squad, the Jurgen Klopp-led Liverpool have enough quality in their squad to give their opponents a run for their money. But league form may count for nothing in a one-off final game involving two big rival clubs who will be looking to win their first silverware of the season.
Iheanacho might not be in the starting line-up in this game but the one-cap Nigerian international is expected to come on at some point during the course of the game. And whichever way the pendulum of victory swings tomorrow, both teams are scheduled to meet again in a league game on Wednesday to right any wrong!
MIKEL READY FOR SOUTHAMPTON TIE
Nigeria’s Mikel Obi and his Chelsea side face a difficult tie today against Southampton as they visit the 32,689-capacity St. Mary’s Stadium to take on coach Ronald Koeman’s side. Mikel and Chelsea have experienced a resurgence of sorts lately, with Nigerian international having won back his first team place at the London club while the Stamford Bridge have moved slightly up on the league ladder.
Only last weekend, Chelsea bounced back strongly with a 5-1 thumping of Manchester City in an FA Cup tie with Mikel featuring prominently in the tie before being substituted by Nemanja Matic in the 82nd minute and the Blues will be banking on such form as they face a Southampton side that defeated host Swansea City 1-0 also last weekend.
Chelsea have moved up to the 12th position on the league table with 33 points and they will need to be at their very best against a Southampton side that currently sit in the 6th position on the log with 40 points. The host team also go into this tie on better form having recorded 4 wins and 1 loss in their last 5 EPL games , though Chelsea are unbeaten recently only recorded 2 wins and 3 draws.
Mikel’s resurgence and form is indeed good news to Super Eagles coach, Sunday Oliseh as Nigeria prepare for the crucial African Cup of Nations qualifier against Egypt next month and it is not surprising that the Dream Team coach, Samson Siasia has also expressed his readiness to consider the midfielder as one of the over-aged players for the U-23 Olympics teams provided the player indicates interest and readiness to represent his country at the Games scheduled for Brazil in August.
IGHALO LOOKS TO SCORE AGAINST BOURNEMOUTH
Having experienced a slight lull in his goalscoring form of recent, Super Eagles forward Odion Ighalo will be going all out for goals as he leads Watford’s attacking line at home against visiting Bournemouth today at the 21,577-Vicarage Road Stadium. Ighalo is yet to find the back of the net in the last 3 EPL games for Watford having last scored in the 2-1 home win over Newcastle United last month, January 23rd to be precise. He however, scored his first FA Cup goal in the 1-0 win against Nottingham Forest on January 30th.
Today’s tie therefore provides Ighalo the last chance for him to score a goal in the month of February and the skillful forward will be hoping to add to his goals tally against Bournemouth. Interestingly, Watford and Bournemout go into this tie on similar forms with both teams recording 2 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses in their their last 5 outings. Host Watford however, enjoy a better standing on the league table where they currently sit in the 9th position with 36 points as against Bournemouth who are 15th on the log with 28 points.
Ighalo with 14 goals to his credit for Watford is currently 5th on the EPL top scorers’ chart – 5 goals short of Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy with 19 goals. The 26-year old striker will be one of the strikers Nigeria will be banking upon to pull the trigger against Egypt when the North Africans come calling to Kaduna next month for an ANC qualifier.
OBOABONA, OMERUO CLASH IN TURKEY
The duo of Super Eagles defenders, Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo will be on the opposing sides today in a Turkish Super League game that will see Oboabona’s Rizespor play host to Omeruo’s Kasimpasa at the 15,558-capacity Yeni Rize Sehir Stadium.
Last weekend, Oboabona featured from start to finish when Rizespor lost 2-1 on their road trip to Antalyaspor while Omeruo was on the winning side with Kasimpasa as they made home advantage count against Eskisehirspor whom they beat 2-1 in a game the Chelsea loanee featured for the whole duration of the game but got carded in 35th minutes. Both Nigerian internationals are regular players for their respective clubs but Oboabona has featured 21 games for Rizespor while Omeruo has played 16 games for Kasimpasa.
Rizespor currently sit in the 13th position on the 18-team Super League table with 25 points after 22 games and having recorded 1 draw and 4 losses in their last 5 games, it remains to be seen if they can make home advantage count against a Kasimpasa side that have fared a little better having recorded 1 win, 1 draw and 3 losses in their last 5 outings which put them in the 7th position on the log with 34 points. The reverse fixture between the two clubs earlier in the season ended in 1-1 draw.
Oboabona and Omeruo are expected to be named in the Eagles squad that will play host to the Pharaohs of Egypt ahead of next month’s African Cup of Nations qualifier to be played in Kaduna.
JUBILEE ECHIEJILE SET FOR NANTES TRIP
Having recently recorded a Golden Jubilee appearance in the French Ligue 1, Super Eagles defender, Elderson Echiejile will be looking to continue his remarkable adventure in France as he embarks on the road trip with Monaco who travel to the Stade de la Beaujoire to take on Nantes tomorrow.
Echiejile celebrated a landmark game in his Ligue 1 career in the colours of Monaco last weekend in the 3-1 win over Troyes which was the Nigerian defender’s 50th appearance in the Ligue 1 scoring just one goal in the process. Last season, he featured in 22 of Monaco’s 38 league games, while this term he has played a part in 14 of the club’s 27 matches. The 28-year old had previously made 19 appearances over two seasons while he was with Stade Rennes.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s game, Echiejile declares he is hungry to feature in more games as much as possible.
“I want to play more, I want to keep playing, keep training, keep enjoying this club and this Premier League,” he told Completesportsnigeria.com. And modestly describing his goals tally as “not bad”, he added: “I’m very happy with how it’s going.
“I’m a defender and don’t expect much from me always – the season – from me and for the team and I just have to keep working.”
MALTA HOME TO NIGERIAN STARS
The Malta Premier League is currently the Mecca of many Nigerian footballers with as many as 23 players plying their trades in the tiny European country
A check on the 12-team league reveal that only 3 of the elite division clubs – Naxxar Lions, Balzan and Hibernians – don’t have any Nigerian player in their squads while the remaining 9 teams have a number of Nigerian players in their fold.
Mosta FC has the highest number of Nigerian players numbering 8 in the side while Birkirkara, St. Andrews and Sliema Wanderers have 3 players each in their squads.
Listed below is the full list of Nigerian players in the Malta Premier League clubs.
Uchenna Umeh Valleta Attacker
Ini Akpan Birkirkara Goalkeeper
Frank Temile Birkirkara Midfielder
Joseph Willy Birkirkara Attacker
Simeon Ezeadi Floriana Midfielder
Obinna Obiefule Pembroke Athleta Attacker
Ebiabowei Baker Tarxien Rainbows Defender
Lucky Omerou Tarxien Rainbows Attacker
Noah Ojuola Qormi Defender
Chinatu Onwudinjo St. Andrews Defender
Edafe Uzeh St. Andrews Defender
Lucky Oseghale St. Andrews Midfielder
Jeremiah Ani Sliema Wanderers Attacker
Savior Fidelis Sliema Wanderers Attacker
Shola Shodiya Sliema Wanderers Attacker
Osa Guobadia Mosta Midfielder
Y’au Hassan Mosta Midfielder
Onyekachi Okonkwo Mosta Midfielder
Frederick Abel Mosta Attacker
Samuel Chukwide Mosta Attacker
Godwin Mensha Mosta Attacker
Sibi Gwar Mosta Attacker
Abdumali Mohammed Mosta Attacker