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Boniface, Tella, Ademola tussle for Europa League trophy

It promises to be battle royal on Wednesday, May 22, as three Super Eagles strikers, Victor Boniface and Nathan Tella of Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen and…

It promises to be battle royal on Wednesday, May 22, as three Super Eagles strikers, Victor Boniface and Nathan Tella of Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen and Ademola Lookman of Italy’s Atlanta, faceoff in the final match of this year’s UEFA Europa League at the 51,711 spectators Aviva stadium in Dublin. 

As both sides prepare for the final showdown, Bayer Leverkusen who are parading two Super Eagles strikers in Boniface who only recently won the rookie of the season award in the Bundesliga and his compatriot, Tella are high on confidence having already clinched the domestic title ahead of serial winners, Bayern Munich.

Therefore, the Xabi Alonso tutored side basking in the euphoria of their accomplishment will be presented with the Bundesliga trophy for the first time in their history after their Matchday 34 fixture against Augsburg at the Bay Arena. Should Leverkusen win or draw against Augsburg, they will extend their unbeaten streak to 51 matches and emerge as the first team to complete an entire season with such an enviable record.

This is no doubt a big boost for Boniface and Tella as they prepare to go up against their compatriot, Ademola who is equally on fire in the Serie A with Atlanta.

Undoubtedly, Boniface who missed the 2023 AFCON party due to injury, and his fellow Super Eagles striker, Tella, have contributed immensely to the success of Leverkusen as the bullish Boniface who debuted in the Bundesliga this season has scored 13 goals and provided eight assists to earn the league’s rookie player of the year award just as Tella, a fringe Super Eagles striker for now, also recorded five goals and two assists.

Beyond his exploits in the Bundesliga in his first season, Boniface has played a pivotal role in his club’s progress to the Europa League final, as he scored five times and provided an assist as the Bundesliga champions get set to be crowned European champions for the first time since 1988.

The duo of Boniface and Tella are highly favoured to be crowned continental champions in Dublin, but they must first deal with the threat posed by Ademola’s Atlanta. The sleeky attacking winger who emerged one of Super Eagles best players at the 2023 AFCON in Cote d’Ivoire was denied his first silverware at club level after Atlanta lost 0-1 to Juventus in the final of the Coppa Italia at the Stadio Olimpico last Wednesday.

Ademola who began his professional career in England actually struggled to find his feet in the Premiership with Leicester City but has become a different player since joining Atlanta in 2022. He has been in fine form for club and country. As a matter of fact, he outshone the reigning African Footballer of the Year, Victor Osimhen, by emerging as the joint-top scorer with three goals in Cote d’Ivoire. 

The diminutive but highly effective attacking winger has recorded nine goals and six assists in Serie A this season, and a goal in the Coppa Italia to help his team get to the final which they narrowly lost to Juvetus.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that the Super Eagles stars are deserving of their success in the season. And ahead of the football showpiece in Dublin, Trust Sports takes a look at Nigerian internationals who reached the final of the Europa League final in the past and those who emerged victorious.

The last time Super Eagles players featured in the Europa League final was in 2022 when Eintracht Frankfurt edged Rangers 5-4 via penalties after 1-1 regulation time in Seville.

Super Eagles’ Calvin Bassey and Joe Aribo were part of the starting line up while Leon Balogun made the substitute list. In the course of the match, Aribo gave Rangers the lead in the 57th minute but it was equalised twelve minutes later by Rafael Santos Borre Maury to take the match to extra-time and the penalty shoot-out that ensued. In the end, Eintracht Frankfurt triumphed over Rangers, thereby denying the Super Eagles players the chance to be among Nigerians who have won the European title.

In the 2012/2013 season, two Super Eagles players, Mikel Obi and Victor Moses, laid their hands on the European title following Chelsea’s 2-1 victory against Portuguese side, Benfica. However, the duo was on the bench during the final match. 

Before then, Super Eagles player, Chukwudi Odiah, who played for CSKA Moscow and Sporting Lisbon’s Joseph Enakarhire, traded tackles in the European League final held in 2005, at the Estádio José Alvalade stadium. CSKA Moscow defeated Sporting Lisbon 3-1 in front of their fans. Odiah then became the second Nigerian to win the UEFA Europa League trophy which used to be known as UEFA Cup.

In 1998, Taribo West and Nwankwo Kanu were inarguably the first Super Eagles players to win the Europa League silverware when it was still called UEFA Cup. They were part of the Inter Milan team that defeated Lazio 3-0. Although Kanu was among the unused substitutes, West played the final but was sent off in the 81st minute.

Therefore, Wednesday’s final in Dublin, offers the three Nigerians the opportunity to join their compatriots, Taribo West, Nwankwo Kanu, Chukwudi Odiah, Mikel Obi and Victor Moses who had won the prestigious UEFA Europa League trophy

So, even as they like to don the green white green colours of the Super Eagles as brothers, Boniface, Tella and Ademola, will go separate ways as they switch loyalty to their clubs in a bid to make history.

While the Leverkusen duo will be targeting their second title of the season and second European crown, Ademola will aim to help Atlanta end their long wait for a European title. The last time Atlanta celebrated even a domestic Cup was in 1963 when they won their first and only Coppa Italia.

 

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