Three Nigerian footballers who helped their European teams gain promotion

Simeon Tochukwu Nwankwo
Simeon Tochukwu Nwankwo

The European football season is ending and some Nigerian players have helped their various teams make the leap into the topmost tier of football leagues in England, Spain, and Italy.

Nwankwo with FC Crotone in Italy

2018 World Cup surprise inclusion, Simeon Tochukwu Nwankwo, known simply as Simy in Italy, may have caught the eye of Gernot Rohr once again with his stellar performance for Crotone in Serie B. The lanky forward, who played only three minutes in Russia 2018, scored 20 goals and provided three assists as Crotone won automatic qualification back to Serie A after their demotion in 2018.

Crotone returned to Serie A after the 28-year-old scored seven goals for his team in the last eight league matches to guarantee a return, coming in second to Benevento. He scored against 13 of the 19 teams he faced – Livorno, Pordenone, Cittadella, Benevento, Pisa, Virtus Entella, Pescara, Cremonese, Trapani, Trapani, Chievo, Venezia, Spezia; but the highlight was the hat trick against champions, Benevento, immediately after the restart. In these 14 matches in which he scored; Crotone only lost once. He scored four braces and one hat trick as Serie B will be concluded on Friday, July 31.

Ajayi with West Bromwich Albion

Towering Super Eagles defender, Oluwasemilogo Adesewo Ibidapo Ajayi, known to many as Semi Ajayi, helped West Bromwich Albion gain automatic promotion from the Championship. The Baggies came in second, by the skin of their teeth, but the defender will not mind as he now has a shot at the Premiership – an opportunity he did not get with Arsenal.

The 26-year-old, capped nine times by Nigeria, played 43 of the 46 matches in the just-concluded season, making the starting lineup in 42 matches and he scored five goals from his central defensive position, four of which were headers. The Nigerian also had the distinction with West Brom, of not losing any game in which he scored. Four of the goals he scored were at the Hawthorns while the equaliser against Fulham on September 14 proved to be a precious goal in the end. Four of the goals were through headers while the fifth was a close-range finish in the box.

Nwakali with SD Huesca

A lot of Nigerians have been waiting for Kelechi Nwakali to blossom and fulfill the future many foretold after captaining the U-17 team to World Cup glory, but his growth has been a slow burner. After signing for the Segunda side, SD Huesca in September, the 22-year-old midfielder had to wait until June 18, after the Covid-19 break to make his debut.

Nwakali played for just seven minutes on his debut, but five games later, he was celebrating with Huesca, as his team was promoted to La Liga, having won the Segunda title by one point from Cadiz. Nwakali played 147 minutes for the entire season, but he will hope that the luck of joining Huesca and more hard work will bear fruit in the top division.


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