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London at the heart of Nigeria’s bid for Cup of Nations glory

Nigeria's Ademola Lookman celebrates a goal during the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinal against Angola at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium in Abidjan, Cote dIvoire on 02 February 2024.
Nigeria's Ademola Lookman celebrates a goal during the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinal against Angola at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium in Abidjan, Cote dIvoire on 02 February 2024.
Image: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Nigeria will have a strong London connection in Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) final with key players born in Britain likely to line up against the Ivory Coast.

There are four players born in the boroughs of the British capital in the Nigerian squad plus two other key regulars, Calvin Bassey and midfielder Alex Iwobi, who have lived in London from an early age.

Ola Aina, Semi Ajayi and Ademola Lookman are English-born and have made a major contribution to Nigeria’s progress to the final.

Joe Aribo, also from London and who struggled with injury at the start of the tournament, has had limited game time but has contributed off the bench.

Lookman, who is Nigeria’s top marksman at the tournament with three goals, is proving an excellent partner in attack alongside reigning African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen.

Aina has emerged as arguably the best right-back on view over the last month in the Ivory Coast while centre back Ajayi has played every minute of their six games.

Lookman, a product of Charlton Athletic’s academy, played for England when they won the 2017 U20 World Cup.

At first he rejected Nigeria’s overtures saying he wanted to play for England, but two years ago switched allegiance and has gone on to become a regular.

Aina came through the Chelsea academy and was also an England youth international while Ajayi was bought by Arsenal from Charlton, but sat on the bench for the Gunners in the Premier League and never got onto the field.

Bassey, born in Italy, was a junior product at Leicester City but played first at Glasgow Rangers and Ajax Amsterdam before joining London club Fulham.

Iwobi also represented England at youth level, but was always likely to play for Nigeria with his uncle being 'Jay-Jay' Okocha, one of the greats of the Nigerian game.

Nigeria were among the first countries to take players from the diaspora to the Cup of Nations finals, with Reuben Agboola part of the squad in 1992 and Efan Ekoku in their winning squad of 1994.

But their dependence on European-born players has not been as marked as some of Africa’s other heavyweights like Algeria, Morocco and Senegal, who have increasingly had fewer locally born players in their team.

Reuters


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