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New Kanu Nwankwo who can take Super Eagles to World Cup

Kanu Nwankwo is a household name in Nigeria. The football legend has paid his dues in the round-leather game and he deserves all the respects…

Kanu Nwankwo is a household name in Nigeria. The football legend has paid his dues in the round-leather game and he deserves all the respects coming to him.

He was called up into the Nigeria cadet squad that went on to win the FIFA U17 World Cup in Japan in 1993 where he scored five goals.

After the triumph, he was courted by several European clubs but it was Ajax of Amsterdam that got his signature.

With Ajax, he had a very good run after coming through the youth team and impressing at the first team. Soon he was in the Champions League squad as they ran to the final and won the title in 1995 against AC Milan.

The second final in 1996 ended in a penalty shootout defeat to Juventus but Kanu went into the summer with great hope as he led the Nigeria U23 side to the Olympic Games in Atlanta.

As a 19-year-old, Kanu had captained the side through the qualifiers where he scored key goals to help the team past Egypt in the final hurdle in Lagos.

At the Games, Kanu scored the lone goal as Nigeria won their first group game against Hungary before they defeated Japan 2-0 but narrowly lost the third against Brazil and reached the knock out rounds where they defeated Mexico 2-0.

Brazil were awaiting them once more in the semi-final and this time the stakes were higher. The South Americans raced into an early 3-1 lead inside the Sanford Stadium in Florida but the resolute Nigerians came back into the game. Ikpeba made it 3-2 before Kanu worked his magic to make it 3-3 on the stroke of full time.

In extra time, the lanky forward put the game beyond the South Americans scoring from outside the box with a low ball past Dida, taking Nigeria to the final, a place where no African team had reached before.

The final came on August 3, 1996, as Kanu filed out with his team who came from behind once more to defeat Argentina and bagged the gold medals.

Kanu went on to play for Inter Milan of Italy, and English clubs Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth, winning 86 caps and scoring 13 goals for Nigeria before his retirement in 2011.

Since his exit from the scene, the country has been craving for a striker in his shape who will carry the team on the shoulders and make things happen during difficult games.

Eleven years after his exit from the scene, Nigeria seems to have found an even better replacement for Papillo in Victor Osimhen.

The Napoli forward has been phenomenal for Nigeria from the age-grade teams to the senior national team.

Just like Kanu, Osimhen was named in the squad of the Nigeria Under-17 team that won the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile, where he won the Golden Boot and Silver Ball awards after scoring 10 goals.

Victor Osimhen and Kelechi Nwakali at the FIFA U17 World Cup
Victor Osimhen and Kelechi Nwakali at the FIFA U17 World Cup

His performances also earned him the CAF Youth Player of the Year award in 2015. Osimhen made his senior debut for Nigeria in a 3–0 friendly win over Togo on 1 June 2017.

He however missed out on Nigeria’s 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign after his inconsistent season at Wolfsburg.

Following a successful start to his loan spell at Charleroi, he was recalled by Coach Gernot Rohr for the November 2018 international break, starting their friendly win over Uganda.

In March 2019, Osimhen was released from the Super Eagles squad to represent the Nigerian U23 side as they were two goals down against their Libyan opponent. He scored three goals in the return match against Libya in Asaba.

Osimhen was listed in coach Gernot Rohr’s list for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Egypt. In the match for third place, he replaced the injured Odion Ighalo at half-time in the team’s 1–0 victory over Tunisia as he continued to establish himself in the team.

Style of play

The two players have a different styles of play with Kanu making good use of his physical strength, slender frame, and large stature of 1.97 m (6 ft 6 in).

Kanu was a talented player, who possessed an excellent touch on the ball and nimble footwork. He was also highly regarded in the media for his technical skills, dribbling ability, and close control, as well as his flair and use of feints, which made him an unpredictable player on the pitch.

He was also an intelligent player, who possessed good vision and movement, as well as being a good passer, who had the ability to read the game and an eye for the final ball, which – along with his timing and finishing ability – allowed him both to score and create goals; however, he also lacked significant pace and drew criticism at times in the media over his work-rate and occasional tendency to miss easy goalscoring opportunities.

Although he was often deployed as a centre-forward or striker, his creativity also allowed him to operate in a more withdrawn attacking role behind or supporting the main striker, or even in an advanced playmaking role.

Although his height made him a strong presence in the air, he was more adept at scoring with his feet than with his head, despite his size, although he improved upon his aerial game in his later career.

Kanu was also known for his determination and ability to hold up the ball with his back to goal. Moreover, his ability to score decisive goals when coming off the bench earned him a reputation as a “super sub” in the media during his time with Arsenal.

On the other hand, Osimhen’s athleticism, pace and imposing stature that combines lightning-fast turn of pace when he gets going in long distances is a concern for any defender.

Super Eagles young striker, Victor Osimhen during an international friendly with Ukraine at the Dnipro Arena in Ukraine

His smart ball movement is the very strength that makes him win most ground duels and a decent amount of aerial contests, making him a useful option for long balls directed to him.

Allowing a great amount of space for teammates to run into by attracting opposition with his imposing stature and moving the opponent by smart decoy-runs, Osimhen will be a great weapon for the Super Eagles against the Ghanaians.

He also has the elite pressing and defensive discipline that aids the whole team to put pressure on defenders and force them into mistakes.

With all of these in mind, it is safe to say that Osimhen is a very dangerous player to play against and a nightmare for defenders.

Osimhen is mainly used as an on-the-box poacher, not contributing to much of the team’s general play and doesn’t look to combine with teammates and drop deep into space to dictate play, instead, he’s being used to his strengths, staying on the last line of the defence, occupying centre backs and providing a very big on-the-box presence, ready to pounce on any loose touches by opponents and always being in high-value positions.

One of Osimhen’s main strengths is the way he operates and moves around the box. He has proved to be one of the best poachers in Serie A and has shown unusual goalscoring instinct for a player so young.

He scored a back-to-back brace for Napoli before joining up with his teammates in the camp as he joined Mohamed Salah, Samuel Eto’o and George Weah as Africans who have scored a double-figure in two consecutive Serie A seasons.

Osimhen, who missed the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon earlier this year is expected to lead the Super Eagles attack when they take on Ghana at the 40,000 capacity Baba Yara Sports Stadium in Kumasi, Ashanti on Friday, March 25, 2022.

With 10 goals in 18 games already for the Super Eagles, the 23-year-old striker is the star man of the team at the moment and with his current form, the former Lille striker is capable of carrying the Super Eagles on his young shoulders to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Apart from his killer instinct in front of goal, the in-form striker is also a leader in the making. Speaking to journalists ahead of the clash between the two West African giants, Osimhen said: “We are ready for this encounter. The players called up are ready to give their all, but the game would not be easy of course, no team is easy in Africa.”

We can only wait and see if Osimhen will live up to the expectations of Nigerians in the nearest future.

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