Five Players Key To Nigeria’s Hopes of Glory at 2019 AFCON
Published: May 22, 2019
Five Players Key To Nigeria’s Hopes of Glory at 2019 AFCON The biggest-ever Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) gets underway in Egypt next month as 24 national teams battle it out to win the continent’s biggest international soccer title.

As three-time champions and winners as recently as 2013, Nigeria are among the frontrunners on soccer bets to lift the trophy on July 19.

While it will undoubtedly be a team effort to clinch title No 4, the performances of the team’s star players could make a decisive difference.

Here are five players who are set to play vital roles in Nigeria’s bid for glory:

 John Obi Mikel

Until last week, the prospect of John Obi Mikel returning to the Nigeria squad in time for the 2019 AFCON looked slim. The former Chelsea midfielder had not played for the Super Eagles since captaining the side at last summer’s World Cup in Russia.

However, after a  “good meeting” with Nigeria manager Gernot Rohr, Mikel has been included in the squad, and his return can only be a good thing.

The midfielder’s presence, skill and experience make him one of the most accomplished players competing in this year’s AFCON and he provides additional quality to an already impressive Nigeria midfield.

Mikel also joins the squad in good form, having impressed during his short-term spell at English Championship side Middlesbrough.

Considering he is currently without a club, a series of good performances for Nigeria will only help him find new employment.

Wilfred Ndidi

A mainstay in Leicester City’s midfield since his £17 million arrival from Genk in January 2017, Ndidi has proved to be worth every penny, after emerging as one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League.

Ndidi played in every Premier League game for Leicester this season as the club secured a ninth-place finish. He was then named their Young Player of the Season for a second straight season.

A combative, athletic midfielder, the 22-year-old will be key to controlling the midfield for Nigeria, both as a screen for the defence and as a box-to-box player capable of driving his team up the pitch.

He is only getting better and Nigeria will be the beneficiary of his rapid progress this summer.

Alex Iwobi

Another Premier League star that Nigeria will call upon this summer. Iwobi has enjoyed a productive season at Arsenal, making 35 Premier League appearances, scoring three goals and assisting another seven.

He has also played a key role in Arsenal’s run to the Europa League final.

Most commonly deployed as a left winger for his club, Iwobi is used more as a central attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation for his country. This is where his eye for a pass and creativity have been well utilised.

Iwobi could do with adding some more goals to his repertoire and should he get himself more regularly on the scoresheet in Egypt, he could provide the magic to take Nigeria all the way.

Odion Ighalo

No team can win a major tournament without a constant source of goals. Fortunately for Nigeria, they have Ighalo, who was the top-scorer in AFCON qualifying with seven goals.

He has also been banging them in since moving from Watford to the Chinese Super League, scoring 43 goals in 64 appearances. This season, he has already scored seven in the first nine games.

As Nigeria’s starting centre-forward, Ighalo will be tasked with providing the main attacking focal point for the side as well as bringing others into play.

With a devastating turn of pace and a bag of tricks, Ighalo has the ability and form to be one of the standout stars of the  2019 AFCON.

Ahmed Musa

Musa took over captain duties in Mikel’s absence and has excelled both on the pitch and with the armband: under his leadership, Nigeria are unbeaten in six matches, winning four.

Musa has also excelled at club level this season. After joining Al Nassr last summer, the versatile forward helped the club win their first Saudi Premier League title in four years, contributing seven goals and seven assists.

Despite only being 26-years-old, Musa is one of the most experienced members of this Nigeria squad having amassed  78 caps, while scoring 15 goals.

He is now mostly deployed as a left-winger, making up a fearsome three behind Ighalo, alongside Bordeaux winger Samuel Kalu on the right and Iwobi in a central role.

Nigeria will look to Musa’s pace and goalscoring abilities to help them win games this summer. Just as important are his leadership qualities

Jonathan Turner