The four young Nigeria players you need to watch at the 2018 World Cup

The four young Nigeria players you need to watch at the 2018 World Cup

Despite being the lowest-ranked African nation going into the World Cup, hopes are high for Nigeria and their impressive young players.

The Super Eagles were ranked 47th in the final FIFA World rankings before the World Cup, behind Egypt (46th), Morocco (42nd), Senegal (28th) and Tunisia (14th).

 Nigeria also have arguably the toughest group of the African nations, going up against Argentina, Croatia and Iceland in Group D with very few tipping them to reach the knockout stages.

But, the Super Eagles are blessed with a good number of young players off the back of their successes at international youth level.

Of the teams set to turn out at the World Cup, Nigeria had the youngest average age during the qualification stage (24.9 years), the only national team below 25 – with Germany (25.7 years) and England (25.9 years) their closest rivals.

So which young players – under the age of 23 – could be key in Nigeria’s World Cup quest? Below we have singled out four players for you to watch out for.

Kelechi Iheanacho

Age: 21

Club: Leicester City

Nigeria caps: 15

Squad number: 14

Leicester City’s second striker, Kelechi Iheanacho could be Nigeria’s attacking star man if given the opportunity in the right position.

The 21-year-old did not impress in Nigeria’s 1-1 draw with the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday, playing in a midfield role – but it is as a forward Iheanacho has the most impact.

Playing second fiddle to Jamie Vardy in the Premier League last season meant Iheanacho’s playing time was limited with the FA Cup representing his better opportunities.

And the Nigerian made the most of them, scoring four goals in three games, to help Leicester reach the quarter-finals.

Iheanacho has also scored eight goals in 15 appearances for the Super Eagles, but faces competition from the likes of Odion Ighalo, Ahmed Musa and Simeon Nwankwo for a place as their starting striker.

Blessed with pace and an ability to dribble through players when his confidence is high, Iheanacho could be the man to help Nigeria push for a place in the knockout rounds – despite their tough group of Argentina, Croatia and Iceland.

Alex Iwobi

Age: 22

Club: Arsenal

Nigeria caps: 15

Squad number: 18

Whether Nigeria opt to use a three-, four- or five-man defence, Alex Iwobi is almost a guarantee on the teamsheet in an attacking position.

Consistently involved with Arsenal, the winger has found himself deputising for Alexis Sanchez at the Emirates, starting 30 of his 39 appearances in all competitions.

In those games, the 22-year-old has scored three times and assisted seven but his contribution is more than just that as he has proved to be tricky to dispossess, completing 1.8 take-ons per 90 minutes in the Premier League alone last season, as well as creating 1.8 chances per 90.

For Nigeria, Iwobi has managed four goals in 15 caps from a wide position, form which will likely see him be the Super Eagles’ key man at the World Cup.

Building a partnership with Nigeria’s striker and right-winger will be important though for Iwobi, who can provide danger from the wide angles.

Wilfred Ndidi

Age: 21

Club: Leicester City

Nigeria caps: 16

Squad number: 13

The successor to N’Golo Kante at Leicester, Wilfred Ndidi can use the World Cup to cement his place at the heart of the Super Eagles’ midfield.

Ndidi made 38 appearances in all competitions for the Foxes last season, and continues to improve with every game, which was recognised as he won Nigeria’s midfielder of the year award (according to the Leicester Mercury).

Winning 138 tackles in the league, only Renaud Cohade (143) won more in the whole of Europe’s top five leagues despite playing 400 more minutes.

The 21-year-old missed the final three games of Leicester’s season through a hamstring injury but is expected to be back fit for the World Cup – something Gernot Rohr will be thankful for.

Likely to play in a midfield three alongside Nigeria captain Mikel and one other, Ndidi can be the defensive shield to allow the attacking players to push further forward without affecting their back line too much.

This will be vital, with Nigeria having the tough task of facing Argentina and Lionel Messi – who Ndidi will most likely be tasked with man-marking throughout their match on June 26th.

Oghenekaro Etebo

Age: 22

Club: Feirense

Nigeria caps: 12

Squad number: 8

Perhaps the hidden gem of the Nigerian side, Oghenekaro Etebo can be a big part for the Super Eagles at the World Cup.

An attacking utility man, who has played in six different midfield and forward positions, Etebo set the Olympic stage alight in 2016, scoring four goals in one game against Japan to secure Nigeria the bronze medal.

Last season, the 22-year-old started in Portugal with Feirense, where he managed four goals and one assist in 18 games before joining Las Palmas on loan.

Arguably one of his best matches came as a holding midfielder against Barcelona in a 1-1 draw which saw him successfully limit Messi’s impact on the game – something Nigeria will be hoping he can emulate in the World Cup.

Granted, the Argentine did manage to score from a free-kick, but Etebo proved himself in the best league in the world against arguably the best player.

A good all-round midfielder, should he be put in that three-man midfield alongside Ndidi and Mikel. Super Eagles fans could be in for some success this summer, progressing further than many expect them to.