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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Nigeria starlets Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi could begin to leave mark on Super Eagles

Nigeria have two upcoming friendlies against in Europe, with the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi hoping to usher in a new era after their failure to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
Manchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho shown during his team's final Premier League match of the season against Swansea City. Dimitris Legakis / EPA / May 15, 2016
Manchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho shown during his team's final Premier League match of the season against Swansea City. Dimitris Legakis / EPA / May 15, 2016

English Premier League whizz kids Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi hope for game time when Nigeria play two friendlies in Europe this month while continuing with coaching musical chairs.

Iheanacho scored 14 goals for Manchester City this season, but did not start in a key 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Egypt two months ago that the ‘Super Eagles’ lost.

Fellow teenager Iwobi has impressed for Arsenal, earning praise from hard-to-please manager Arsene Wenger, yet also sat on the bench in Alexandria.

Odion Ighalo, who struggled to score in the second half of the Premier League season for Watford, made the starting line-up in the home and away games against Egypt.

Salisu Yusuf will be in charge for matches against Mali and Luxembourg – the third coach of the national team this year after Sunday Oliseh and Samson Siasia.

• See more: Nigeria’s Kelechi Iheanacho secures Manchester City’s Champions League future – in pictures

• Read more: Nigeria’s Alex Iwobi is a welcome injection of vigour at Arsena, writes Greg Lea

Oliseh quit soon after a stinging social media attack against his critics and Siasia was not retained when Nigeria lost in Egypt and failed to qualify for the 2017 Cup of Nations.

Leading Nigerian officials publicly stated that they want a foreign coach to lead the Super Eagles in the 2018 World Cup group campaign, which kicks off this October.

But they chose Yusuf, who has assisted several Nigeria coaches, for matches against Mali in French city Rouen on May 27 and Luxembourg in Luxembourg City four days later.

“I have paid my dues so it cannot be said that my appointment was a surprise,” Yusuf told reporters after his appointment.

“The friendlies are important as two victories will improve our Fifa ranking ahead of the World Cup group draw during June.”

Should the Confederation of African Football (CAF) continue to use world rankings, Nigeria could be only third seeds, leaving them open to drawing a giant like Ivory Coast in a section from which only the winners go to Russia.

The Nigeria friendlies are among 16 involving African national teams during May, starting with Ivory Coast playing Euro 2016 qualifiers Hungary Friday.

Reigning African champions, the Ivorians will experiment in Budapest with stars like Yaya Toure, Gervinho and Serge Aurier being rested.

Four-time African Footballer of the Year Toure last played for the ‘Elephants’ in the 2015 Africa Cup final 15 months ago, which they won after a penalty shootout against Ghana.

Nantes defender Koffi Djidji, Sparta Prague midfielder Tiemoko Konate and Bristol City striker Jonathan Kodjia are among those in line to make international debuts.

Cameroon have omitted suspended captain Stephane Mbia for a May 30 friendly against Euro 2016 hosts France in Nantes.

Belgium-born coach Hugo Broos said the China-based midfielder was ineligible having been red-carded in a friendly loss to Nigeria last year.

Young Tottenham Hotspur striker Clinton N’Jie is available after recovering from a lengthy knee injury.

Uganda coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic has called up striker Melvyn Lorenzen from Werder Bremen, who narrowly escaped relegation from the Bundesliga.

The 21-year-old who was born in London is part of a squad for a May 31 friendly against Zimbabwe in Harare.

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