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Euro 2020: The Nigerian connection

In this special report correspondents, JOHNNY EDWARD and KELVIN EKERETE take a look at the players of Nigerian descent who will compete in the Euros

Manuel Akanji (Switzerland)

Borussia Dortmund man Akanji was born Wiesendangen in Switzerland to a Nigerian father and Swiss mother in 1995.

Akwnji comes from a sporting family. His father – a financial expert – was an amateur footballer in his younger years and still plays the game in his spare time while his mother is a former tennis player.

Michelle, his eldest sister, is an athlete. Another of Manuel’s siblings, Sarah, plays football for FC Winterthur in the Swiss second division.

At 19, Akanji was snapped up by FC Basel during the 2015/16 season and in his debut season he made eight appearances with the Swiss Super League giants, winning the league title despite an injury-hit maiden campaign.

He won the Swiss double the following season where he featured in 28 games in all competitions prior to completing his switch to Borussia Dortmund in 2018. He has helped the club win the German Cup and German Super Cup in four seasons.

Capped 29 times by Switzerland, Akanji will be making his first appearance at the European Championship, having helped Vladimir Petkovic’s side reach the Round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

He will be looking forward to a brilliant European Championship debut with Switzerland, with the quality of players in their ranks, having been eliminated at the group stage three times before a last-16 exit to Poland five years ago.

With the Dortmund defender playing at his best, La Nati will be confident of sealing a best-ever finish this time around, particularly if their recent form is anything to go by.

They have won six games in a row and held Spain to a 1-1 draw ahead of that run, which stretches back to last November.

Indeed, only 12 nations are currently ranked higher than the Swiss globally, so falling short at the group stage again would be a major disappointment.

David Alaba (Austria)

Defender Alaba recently joined Real Madrid after 13 years at German giants Bayern Munich after 13 years.

The 28-year-old, one of the game’s most talented defenders, made his name as a left-back and played centre-back in his last season for Bayern, but will likely play in attacking midfield for Austria at this tournament.

Born in the Austrian capital Vienna on June 24, 1992, Alaba’s father is a Nigerian prince who arrived in Vienna to study Economics before becoming the first black guard soldier in the Austrian army. He is now a musician and DJ, while his mother, Gina, is a nurse, but was named Miss Philippines, the country of her birth, in the 1980s.

A legend at Bayern Munich, Alaba made over 400 appearances for the Bavarians winning 27 titles, including 10 Bundesliga trophies and the Champions League in 2013 and 2020.

He may not have won much with the Austrian national team, but the defender is a seven-time Austrian Footballer of The Year.

There are two other teammates of African descent in the Austrian squad for this tournament.

Alaba often has the Filipino flag stitched onto his boots while he celebrated with the Nigerian flag at Wembley after Bayern’s 2012/13 UEFA Champions League final win.

Bukayo Saka (England)

Born in Ealing, Greater London to Nigerian parents, football lovers in Nigeria had hoped Arsenal star Saka would wear the country’s green and white colours at senior level but the 19-year-old picked England instead.

On October 1, 2020, Saka was called up to the England senior squad for the first time and made his international debut in a 3–0 victory over Wales.

Saka, who has had two impressive season with the Gunners, has made five senior appearances for the Three Lions, scoring his first goal against Austria in a1-0 win.

Three Lions gaffer, Gareth Southgate, says Saka’s performance for club and country easily guaranteed him the spot on the team.

“Firstly he’s performed exceptionally well for us and performed well in a team that’s had a difficult season,” Southgate said.

“His adaptability, the fact he can play four or five different positions is a real plus for us.”

The teenager has shown his worth winning two Man of The Match accolades in his five appearances for England.

Karim Onisiwo (Austria)

Born to a Nigerian father and an Austrian mother, Onisiwo will be attending his first Euros in the colours of Austria after missing out on the 2016 edition.

The forward will be hoping to improve his scoring with the team, having only netted once in 11 appearances since his first cap in November 2015.

The forward, who features for Mainz in the German Bundesliga, had a season to forget, scoring a meagre four goals in 32 appearances across all competitions in Germany.

The 29-year-old will be hoping to help Austria make it out of Group C, where they are pitted against Netherlands, North Macedonia and Ukraine.

Jamal Musiala (Germany)

Born in Stuttgart to a German mother and British-Nigerian father, Musiala arrived in England at seven. He was eligible to represent England, Germany and Nigeria, but the Bayern Munich teenage sensation opted to represent Germany at senior level after featuring for England at youth level.

He had three caps for Germany, who are set to unleash the prodigy at the tournament.

Still 18, Musiala comes into his first-ever European Championship as a Bundesliga champion with Bayern, scoring six goals with one assist in 26 games, which left Germany boss Joachim Low in awe.

Earlier in the year, Musiala became the youngest player to score a goal for a German club in the Champions League, after scoring the second goal in the first leg of Bayern Munich’s 4-1 win over Lazio.

A Bundesliga, Club World Cup, UEFA and German Supercup winner at  just 18, Musiala is way ahead of the curve and it would be a delight to see him deliver the goods at the highest stage of European football.

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