The CL Group Stage is now at the half-way point, with every team having played three fixtures, we take a look at the how the competition’s Nigerian contingent have fared so far
By Ed Dove
This season, relatively few of the Super Eagles’ finest players are gracing Europe’s premier club competition. Many of our stars are representing teams in the continent’s second tier, but a limited amount of them are performing within the Champions League.
For those that are, fortunes have, at best, been mixed.
Mikel: Struggling to Assert Himself
John Obi Mikel
Europa League champions Chelsea sit atop Group E, a reality that seemed unlikely after their first game, an underwhelming 2-1 home defeat to Basel. Jose Mourinho’s squad have responded well; Steaua Bucharest and Schalke were dispatched with little ceremony and the Blues ought to avoid last season’s ignominy of a first-round exit.
This season is struggling to get started for John Obi Mikel, both in Europe and the Premier League.
He didn’t feature in the trip to Romania, and only entered as a substitute for the latter stages against Schalke and Basel. He has not played in the league for a month, having been replaced at half-time in the club’s draw with Tottenham Hotspur.
Musa: An Uphill Battle
Having been pitched into Group D alongside Manchester City and reigning-champions Bayern Munich, qualification for the Europa League via a third-placed finish might be the only realistic achievement for Ahmed Musa and CSKA Moscow.
Their campaign has realised that forecast thus far as they lost to City and Bayern, but recorded a victory over group whipping boys, Plzen.
Musa endured a disappointing stint as a substitute against City, having entered the game in the 50th minute, he achieved little more than a booking. He impressed in the crucial clash against Plzen, where he hit the post with a terrific shot and also provided an assist for Zoran Tosic’s opener for CSKA.
Musa has an enormously important 12 months ahead of him, but I suggest, that for now at least, his best chance of impressing in the continental sphere after New Year will be in the Europa rather than the Champions League.
Olaitan: Limited Impact
Olympiakos will not have been too confident in their ability to advance from the group having been drawn into a taxing collection of teams including French champions Paris Saint-Germain and defeated Europa League finalists Benfica.
However, at the half-way stage of proceedings, the Greek giants are sitting ahead of Benfica and can look back over their first three fixtures with pride.
They may have been tonked by P.S.G., with the French side’s riches on display for all to see, but since then, their fortunes have improved.
Anderlecht were dispatched 3-0 in Belgium, with Konstantinos Mitroglou on song, but the 1-1 draw away in Portugal could prove to be even more crucial.
Nigerian forward Michael Olaitan has featured only once, against Anderlecht, where he was replaced before the hour mark, following Mitroglou’s second goal. The youngster has been playing in a deeper role so far this term and has thus failed to recreate his excellent scoring form of the end of last season.
He could still have a big role to play in Olympiakos’s coming group stage fixtures.
Whipping Boys at Parken?
Over at Copenhagen, Fanendo Adi is facing up to life with the group's whipping boys.
The Danes recorded a terrific 1-1 draw at home to Juventus, a game which Adi started, but have been less lucky in subsequent fixtures, being outclassed 4-0 by Real Madrid and then 3-1 against Galatasaray. Those matches were both away, giving Loverne gentle optimism, perhaps, that they can perform better that their Parken home.
Fail to do that, and Adi and co. will not be enjoying European competition post-Christmas.
Ambrose: The Last Nigerian Hope?
With Mikel almost certain to advance to the next stage of competition, and the other three aforementioned Nigerians realistically competing for spots in the Europa League knock-out rounds in 2014, perhaps the Super Eagles’ greatest intrigue rests upon Efe Ambrose and Celtic.
The Scottish giants were drawn into the ‘Group of Champions’, a selection of teams who have all previously held Europe’s premier prize.
After three games Celtic remain alive…just!
Terrifically difficult opening clashes, away in Milan and at home to Barcelona, were as difficult as any team in the competition had to endure. Failure to beat Ajax, at home, in the third game, and progression to the next round would already have been a near-impossibility.
Celtic managed to win, 2-1, and sit in third place, two points behind Milan in second.
As was the case last season, Efe Ambrose has been a stalwart for the side. He hasn’t missed a minute in each of the Bhuoys’ games to date, operating at centre-back, rather than the right-back spot he occupies for the national side.
The defender has been playing with a spring in his step, having agreed a new four-year deal earlier this month. If he and his teammates can secure a result in Amsterdam on November 6, and trouble either Milan or Barcelona (as they did so memorably last season) then they could make another remarkable return to the last 16.
Should Ambrose and his teammates fail, then Mikel is likely to be Nigeria’s only representative in the competition’s latter stages.