With Wednesday night’s thrilling conclusion to the UEFA Champions League group stage, Samuel Chukwueze and George Ilenikhena have etched their names into Nigerian football history, Soccernet.ng reports.
Chukwueze’s late winner secured a remarkable 2-1 comeback victory for AC Milan against Newcastle, while Ilenikhena delivered a stoppage-time goal, clinching Antwerp’s 3-2 triumph over Barcelona.
These are set to be the last-ever goals scored by Nigerian players in the traditional Champions League group stage setup as the competition undergoes a transformative shift in 2024.
Farewell to the group stage format
As of 2024, the Champions League bids farewell to its familiar group stage format, opting for a dynamic league format.
No longer confined to four-team groups, 36 clubs will engage in a single league competition.
According to UEFA, this revamped structure will bring increased competitiveness, with teams facing eight different opponents, splitting matches between home and away fixtures.
Unlocking the New League format
The impending changes, set to take effect from the 2024/25 season, introduce a fresh perspective to European football.
The departure from group stages allows for a broader pool of competitors, fostering intense matchups and early clashes between top-tier teams.
Qualification will remain merit-based, blending a club’s previous domestic league performance with the association club coefficient ranking.
The knockout phase retains its drama, with the top eight league finishers automatically securing a spot in the round of 16.
Teams ranking 9th to 24th will engage in a knockout play-off, intensifying the competition. The synergy between the league and knockout phases ensures every match matters, offering fans a prolonged period of excitement leading up to the final.
The winds of change touch not only the Champions League but also the Europa League and the renamed UEFA Conference League. Both competitions embrace a similar league format, widening the scope for clubs and enhancing the overall European football experience.
Legacy of Nigerians in the previous format
Reflecting on the history of Nigerian players in the Champions League, Daniel Amokachi’s name echoes through time.
He scored the first-ever goal in the group stage format’s debut in 1992, securing a 1-0 victory for Club Brugge against CSKA Moscow.
Obafemi Martins leads the Nigerian scoring charts with nine goals in the competition, closely trailed by Victor Osimhen (8 goals) and Victor Ikpeba (7).