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As this season’s UEFA Champions League nears its climax, Goal examines Nigeria’s Best 11 to have participated in Europe’s top club competition

SPECIAL
By Shina Oludare

Since the inception of the Uefa Champions League, a large number of Nigerian players have featured in the glamorous competition, considered as one of the biggest football tournaments in the world. As this season’s tournament draws to a close, this feature presents Nigeria’s all-time Best XI to have participated in the prestigious competition.


GOALKEEPER

VINCENT ENYEAMA

Without any speck of argument, Enyeama is the best Nigerian goalkeeper to have played in the Uefa Champions League. In the 2010-11 season, he wrote his name in the legend of the competition as one of the goalscoring custodians when he converted a penalty for Hapoel Tel Aviv in their 3-2 away victory against Red Bull Salzburg. In the group stages against Lyon, he re-enacted his goalscoring feat by converting a 79th minute penalty to equalise for his Israeli outfit at the Bloomfield Stadium before Miralem Pjanic snatched the winner for the French team with the last kick of the game on September 29, 2010.

No of starts: 7
Minutes played: 630

DEFENDERS


CHIDI ODIAH

Chidi Odiah mans the right side of the defence thanks to his exploits with CSKA Moscow of Russia. Though he had a paltry two appearances for the Army team, Odiah was at his best in the 2009-10 edition where he shone like a million stars in his team's 2-1 defeat of Manchester United at Old Trafford and against Sevilla in the round of 16 before bowing out of the tournament no thanks to their 2-0 aggregate defeat to Inter Milan in the quarter-final.

No of starts: 5
Minutes played: 503

EFE AMBROSE

Since his move from FC Ashdod in the Israeli Premier League, the Super Eagles towering defender has been an integral figure in the Celtic squad. Efe played pivotal roles for the Hoops in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 Champions League campaigns. Since making his Champions League debut, where he played 90 minutes in a 3-2 win over Spartak Moscow, his biggest highlight in the competition was his man-of-the-match performance in Celtic’s shock defeat of Barcelona.

No of starts: 12
Minutes played: 1124

TARIBO WEST

Dreadlock-wearing Taribo known for his glitzy appearance remains the only Nigerian player to have represented more than two clubs in the Champions League having played for AJ Auxerre, Inter Milan and Partizan Belgrade. In the 1996–97 campaign, he put up a five-star performance as he marshalled  Auxerre’s defence and topped Group A of that season’s tournament that paraded Ajax, Grasshoppers and Rangers. However , their juggernaut was halted in the quarter-finals against eventual champions Borussia Dortmund. He represented Inter the following season where he played three times before staging a return in the competition five years later for Serbia’s Partizan Belgrade.

No of starts: 13
Minutes played: 1084


CELESTINE BABAYARO

Unarguably one of the greatest left-backs Nigeria have produced, Babayaro made his Champions League debut for Anderlecht of Belgium on 23 November 1994 against Steaua Bucaresti and in the game became the competition’s youngest player till date (16 years and 87 days) and the youngest player to be sent off having been shown the red card in the 37th minute. Even when he joined Chelsea in 1997, Babayaro delivered commanding displays and was a part of the Blues squad that reached the last four of the competition in the 2003-04 season. He also has a goal to his credit in the competition.

No of starts: 15
Minutes played: 1116


MIDFIELDERS

KARIBE OJIGWE

The 17-cap Super Eagles midfielder was essential for Kaiserslautern during their 1998-99 quarter final finish where he combined positions in midfield and in defence.  Ojigwe was a member of the Bayern Leverkusen team that finished in second place after goals from Zinedine Zidane and Raul Gonzalez ensured Real Madrid triumphed over them in the 2001-02 edition. He featured in four different seasons of the competition.

No of starts: 12
Minutes played: 952

AUSTIN OKOCHA

‘Jay-Jay’, aside from being one of the greatest footballers to have emerged from Africa, is one of the few Nigerian midfielders to have scored in the competition – a feat he achieved while at PSG of France. Okocha, in his debut appearance in the competition for Fenerbahce, was a toast of many as he terrorized opponents' defences with his implausible dribbling skills. After helping the Yellow Canaries get to the group stage courtesy of a 2-1 aggregate win over Maccabi Tel Aviv in the qualifying round, he went on to play in all his side's six games in the group that paraded Manchester United, Rapid Vienna and runners-up Juventus and was at his best as Fenerbahce  secured an away victory at Old Trafford. He represented PSG in the 2000-01 edition and got his only goal of the Uefa Champions League with a 29th minute strike in Les Parisens' 4-3 defeat at Deportivo La Coruna on March 7, 2001 at the Estadio Riazor.

No of starts: 9
Minutes played: 778


JOHN OBI MIKEL

John Obi Mikel is the most-capped Nigerian in this competition, boasting of 39 starts in the prestigious tournament. He has played in eight consecutive seasons of the CL and is only the third Nigerian to have won the competition. He was also part of the Blues team that lost to Manchester United on penalties in a tense all-English final played in Moscow, albeit in a non-playing substitute's role.

No of starts: 39
Minutes played: 3008


FINIDI GEORGE

Finidi holds the record as the only Nigerian to play in 20 consecutive games of the UEFA Champions League – where he neither came on as a substitute nor was substituted.  He helped Ajax to win three straight Dutch league titles and propelled them to glory in the Champions League in 1995 when they edged past AC Milan 1-0. An attempt to win it a second time was scuttled by Juventus a year later when Ajax lost via penalties in the final. He has two goals to his credit in the competition.

No of starts: 20
Minutes played: 1560

 

STRIKERS

KANU NWANKWO

Kanu shot to fame in the competition when he scored against Croatian side Hajduk Split in the quarter-finals of the 1995 edition after several months in the youth set-up.  The lanky teenager came on as a substitute in the final where Ajax defeated Milan 1-0 in Vienna to carve his name and that amazing Dutch team into Champions League folklore. He featured in the final of the competition the following year but was unlucky to lose to Juventus via penalties. He represented Arsenal in five different seasons of the competition but could only manage a quarter-final finish in the last year of his contract. He can boast of five goals in the competition.

No of starts: 36
Minutes played: 2400

YAKUBU AYEGBENI

In his only season in the Champions League, he carved a niche for himself becoming the first and only African to have scored a hat-trick in the competition and also one of the six players in the competition's history to have scored a treble on their debut.  It began with a brace in the qualifying stage against Austrian side Sturm Graz. He increased his tally when he bagged a hat-trick in the group stage victory against Olympiacos, before scoring a penalty in a 3-0 defeat of Manchester United and another goal in the 3-3 draw in the reverse fixture against Olympiacos. He has not played in the competition since, but his goals are a testament to his prowess (five goals in five appearances).

No of starts: 5
Minutes played: 369



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