With just a few days to the end of an eventful year for Nigeria football, it is time once again to cast a glance back at some of the events of the last 12 months.
A year where Nigeria’s football reached a new low, Super Eagles were the only shining light, and that’s down to the performances of the players.
Soccernet Nigeria’s Imhons Erons highlights the ten best Nigerian footballers whose contribution to the national team’s success in 2019 cannot be overrated.
Omeruo remains one of the best defenders the Super Eagles have had this decade. The 2013 AFCON winner was solid for the Super Eagles every time he was called upon.
Once the 27-year-old was in the side, Gernot Rohr’s men hardly lost games. Omeruo was on the losing side with the Eagles just once in the last 15 months – a nail biting 2-1 defeat suffered at the hands of Algeria in the semifinals of Egypt 2019.
Simon has been the unsung hero of the year for the Super Eagles – a tireless runner, willing to put in the defensive shift while selflessly creating chances for others to shine.
The Levante winger on loan at Nantes has rarely disappointed when playing for the Super Eagles. He scored in the 3-1 win over Seychelles at the start of the year and claimed the assist to Omeruo’s winner in the second group match at the AFCON against Guinea.
An undisclosed health scare did not allow Simon to feature further at the tournament, but he made a fine return to provide the assist to Aribo’s goal in the 1-1 draw against Brazil. At 24, the future can only get better for the former Gent star.
After scoring twice at the World Cup in 2018 in the 2-0 victory over Iceland and netting 4 times overall last year, Musa had a subdued 2019.
Nevertheless, the 27-year-old took a step towards securing his legacy on the international scene this outgoing year by amassing 8 more games in the last 12 months to bring his total number of caps for the Super Eagles to 91.
The former Leicester City forward started the year by winning the Saudi Premier League with Al Nassr before inspiring the Super Eagles to a third-place finish at the AFCON.
After the tournament, the one-time CSKA Moscow hero then assumed the captainship of the Super Eagles following the retirement of Mikel John Obi.
With plans to return to Europe in the coming days, Ahmed Musa is still poised to take the national team to greater heights.
Gernot Rohr’s men played a total of 14 games in 2019, winning 9 and losing just 2 of those, with William playing in most of the games.
Troost-Ekong stood strong like a colossus at the heart of the defence of a team that conceded only 17 goals despite playing the likes of five-time world champions Brazil and five-times African champions Cameroon.
It didn’t matter if the Udinese defender was paired with Brighton’s Leon Balogun or Leganes’ Kenneth Omeruo, he delivered quality performances that made Nigeria a difficult team to beat during the year.
The highlight of his year would be scoring the winning goal in the final minutes of the AFCON quarterfinals clash against South Africa.
Iwobi began the year as an Arsenal player, but ended it on the blue half of Merseyside as an Evertonian, in what has been a remarkable year for the former Gunner.
After scoring his first ever AFCON goal – the winner in the 3-2 triumph over Cameroon in the knockout round – Iwobi helped Nigeria pick a bronze medal to lay the first block of his legacy with the national team.
The 23-year-old is yet to find his feet with Everton but remains a key component of a Super Eagles attack that scored 22 times on course to winning 9 of its 14 games in 2019.
The Rangers midfielder was not even in Gernot Rohr’s plans at the beginning of the year, but once he was handed a first opportunity back in September he has become one of the revelations of the year.
In a year of breakthroughs for many youngsters in the national colours, Aribo warmed himself into the hearts of millions of Nigerians with his displays for the Eagles since making his international debut in the 2-2 draw against Ukraine.
The 22-year-old scored the opener against the Europeans in that game and followed it up with another fine finish in the 1-1 draw versus former world champions Brazil in November. The former Charlton Athletic playmaker has since become one of the first names on the team list for any Eagles match.
Chukwueze made his stunning breakthrough with Villarreal last term, scoring crucial goals, claiming fine assists and dribbling past La Liga defences at will.
It was then not a surprise when Nigeria’s German tactician Rohr named him in the 23-man list heading to the continental showpiece in Egypt.
He made his debut for Nigeria in the international friendly game against the Cranes of Uganda on November 21, 2018.
But it was until this year the 20-year-old made his mark. In the AFCON quarterfinals game versus a decent South Africa side, the youngster terrorized the Bafana Bafana defence all game, opening the scoring on the way to a memorable 2-1 Nigeria triumph.
A brilliant 2019 saw the Villarreal forward named as NFF’s Young Player of the Year, rated 9th best U-21 player in the world, and made UEFA’s ’50 for the future’ list. He is still in the running for the CAF Youth Player of the Year award.
When Odion Ighalo retired from the national setup, the next question on many lips was from whose boots would the Super Eagles goals come from?
Paul Onuachu didn’t seem ready for the huge responsibility. Henry Onyekuru’s best days had been spent out on the wings than as a number 9. Kelechi Iheanacho had just endured a forgettable season at Leicester City.
But the fears were allayed after Gernot Rohr decided to put his trust in a gangling 20-year-old who had smashed the Belgian Jupiler League to shreds with Sporting Charleroi.
Osimhen scored 20 goals in 36 appearances for Royal Charleroi, and that earned him a move to France where he has taken the league by storm.
Whether it’s for the Super Eagles or Lille in the Ligue 1, just plant Osimhen in front of goal and he’s sure to get you a goal or two.
The former U-17 World Cup Golden Boot winner has scored 4 goals in his last 4 games for Gernot Rohr’s side and fired home his thirteenth goal of the season in all competitions for Lille over the weekend. A fantastic year for Osimhen, it’s been.
Ighalo scored the Super Eagles’ first goal of the year – a penalty goal in the 35th minute – in the 3-1 lashing of Seychelles at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba to set the ball rolling for Gernot Rohr’s team.
A great goalscoring spell for the Shanghai Shenhua striker eventually ended with him banging in 5 goals at the African Cup of Nations championship in the summer which earned him the tournament’s Golden Ball award. Crucial goals they were: from the winning goal against Burundi in the group stages to the double that drowned Cameroon in the Round of 16.
Having scored just 3 goals in his first three years with the Super Eagles since making his debut in 2015, the former Watford target man fired in 12 goals between 2018 and 2019 to seal his place as one of the finest strikers to ever put on the green and white kits of Nigeria.
He retired immediately after the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, but his performance in that tourney earned him a spot on this list.
2019 is the year the 23-year-old played his most games as a Super Eagles player – 13 matches – and established his place at the centre of the national team’s midfield.
A crucial player as Nigeria finished in third place at the AFCON 2019, Ndidi has been Nigeria’s brightest star in the Premier League this term.
The former Genk midfield enforcer has done a good job protecting the Premier League’s joint meanest defence this season. He is currently only behind Ricardo Pereira as the player with most tackles this campaign, while he sits at the top as the player with most interceptions.
Nigeria can confidently boast of one of the best midfielders in the English Premier League – and statistically in the world – at just 23 in Wilfred Ndidi.