Former Everton, Chelsea, Newcastle, Bolton, Hull City, Barcelona, Arsenal, West Brom, Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and Blackburn players all feature.
Nigeria reached the Round of 16 in 1994, 1998 and 2014, but their greatest achievements have come at youth level. Nigeria’s under-17 team, known as the Golden Egaglets, have won FIFA’s under-17 World Cup a record five times, winning the inaugural tournament in 1985 and the most recent one in 2015.
Nigeria had a ‘Golden Generation’ in the mid-90’s which won the under-17 World Cup in 1993, the African Cup of Nations in 1994 and gold at the 1996 Olympic Games. As such, much of Nigeria’s all-time squad is made up of players from that era. Below is Nigeria’s definite 15 man squad, plus their 8 reserves from which you choose which 3 join the initial 15 to create a final 18 man squad.
Nigeria’s greatest ever goalkeeper and joint most capped player of all-time, Vincent Enyeama spent thirteen years between the sticks for the Super Eagles, racking up 101 caps and winning the African Cup of Nations in 2013. At club level, Enyeama has spent the last six years with Lillie in Ligue 1, having spent four years with Hapoel Tel Aviv prior to that.
The goalkeeper for Nigeria’s ‘Golden Generation’, Peter Rufai was a senior member of that group, having won his first cap in 1983 and playing his last in 1998. In that time, Rufai won 65 caps for the Super Eagles, featuring in two World Cups, two African Cup of Nations and scoring one goal.
From the goalkeepers to the defence and possibly the most contentious call in this squad, with Victor Moses making the initial 15 man cut as a defender. Traditionally a winger, Moses spent last season playing as a highly effective right wing-back as Chelsea cruised to the Premier League title. An African Cup of Nations winner with Nigeria in 2013, it may be too early for some, but we believe the 26-year-old is worth his place.
Another player from the Super Eagles Golden Generation, Uche Okechukwu spent 12 years playing for Nigeria. An African Cup of Nations winner in 1994, Okechukwu was a big, strong, no-nonsense centre-back, who holds the record for the longest time spent playing in Turkish football by a foreign player, a total of 13 years with Fenerbahce and Istanbulspor. He won two Super Lig titles with the former.
A player well-known to followers of the English game, Joseph Yobo spent nine years at Goodison Park, where he made more than 200 appearances for Everton, and later returned briefly to the Premier League with Norwich City. The most capped outfield player in Nigeria’s history and the joint most in any position with Vincent Enyeama, Yobo won 101 caps for the Super Eagles.
Celestine Babayaro played for Anderlecht, Chelsea and Newcastle United over the course of a 14 year career. With 27 caps for Nigeria, Babayaro has among the fewest caps in this squad, but he still warrants inclusion based on his ability. A versatile left-sided player, Babayaro won Olympic Gold and an under-17 World Cup title with Nigeria, and went on to win a Belgian league title, a UEFA Cup Winners Cup and the FA Cup.
The last defender in Nigeria’s initial 15 man squad is Stephen Keshi. Nicknamed ‘the Big Boss’, Keshi was an intelligent central defender with a thunderous shot. He scored over 50 goals at club level and 9 from 64 caps for Nigeria. He played for the likes of Anderlecht, Lokeren and Strasbourg in Europe, and was manager of Nigeria up until 2015, but sadly died of a heart attack less than a year after leaving the Super Eagles.
John Obi Mikel
Runner-up to Yaya Toure for the 2013 African Footballer of the Year, John Obi Mikel has been touted for greatness since a young age, having joined Chelsea at the age of 18 following a transfer saga which saw Manchester United announce his arrival at one stage. Mikel perhaps hasn’t reached the heights some expected of him, but he spent eleven years at Chelsea, playing 374 games, winning two Premier League titles and a Champions League.
One of the stars of Nigeria’s Golden Generation, Sunday Oliseh’s career saw him turn out for the likes of Ajax, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund. The defensive midfielder won league titles in the Netherlands and Germany, as well as winning both the African Cup of Nations and Olympic Gold with the Super Eagles.
The debate as to who is Nigeria’s greatest ever player is probably between Jay-Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu. Our money is with the man who was so good they named him twice. Jay-Jay doesn’t have the trophies to match Kanu, but he has all the ability. A joyous attacking midfielder who could pull off pieces of skill in crucial Premier League games which other players wouldn’t even attempt in training, Jay-Jay played for Frankfurt, Fenerbahce, PSG, Bolton and more. The seven-time Nigerian Footballer of the Year won 75 caps for his country.
All great teams need great wingers, unless you’re Spain in 2012, and we now turn our attention to Nigeria’s greatest wide men. We start with Finidi George, a man who started in two Champions League finals for Ajax, winning one. Remarkably tall for a winger, George had exceptional pace and dribbling ability, and spent his best years with Ajax and Real Betis.
The only man who could rival Finidi George for the title of Nigeria’s greatest ever winger, Emmanuel Amunike may well have exceeded the accomplishments of his compatriot were it not for injuries. An explosive winger with an eye for goal, Amunike’s career was plagued by injuries, but he still played for the likes of Sporting CP and Barcelona, winning 27 caps for Nigeria.
Onto the forwards and we start with Nigeria’s finest. A wonderfully technical striker who was voted Arsenal’s 13th greatest player of all-time, Kanu was a member of the ‘Invincibles’ squad and became a renowned super sub, scoring 37 goals in 119 league games for the Gunners, having previously played for Ajax and Inter Milan. Kanu went on to impress further with West Brom and Portsmouth, but only managed a surprisingly poor 12 goals from 87 caps for Nigeria.
Whilst Rashidi Yakini’s club career pales in comparison to Nwanko Kanu’s, his international career was much more impressive. The Super Eagles all-time top scorer with 37 goals from 58 caps, Yashidi had great success in Portugal with Vitoria, where he scored 90 goals in 114 league games.
Any one of Obafemi Martins, Emmanuel Emenike, Daniel Amokachi and more could have made the last spot in this initial 15, and a few still could make the final 18, but it is Yakubu who takes the last definite spot in this squad. A reliable centre-forward, Yakubu wasn’t always the most mobile, but he was fairly prolific. He scored 29 goals in 65 games for Portsmouth, 25 goals in 73 games for Middlesbrough, 25 goals in 82 games for Everton and 17 goals in 30 games for Blackburn. He deserves his place in this squad, just.
That’s it for the Super Eagles definite 15, now it’s over to you to pick which three reserve players get the nod and join the likes of Okocha and Kanu in Nigeria’s final 18. The eight reserve players to choose from are as follows:
1. Emmanuel Okala – Former Enugu Rangers goalkeeper – 51 caps
2. Taribo West – Former Auxerre and Inter Milan defender – 42 caps
3. Taye Taiwo – Former Marseille full-back – 53 caps
4. Haruna Ilerika – Former Stationery Stores midfielder – 30 caps
5. Muda Lawal – Former Shooting Stars and Stationery Stores midfielder – 86 caps
6. Victor Ikpeba – Former Liege, Monaco and Dortmund forward – 31 caps
7. Segun Odegbami – Former Shooting Stars forward – 46 caps
8. Obafemi Martins – Former Inter Milan, Newcastle United and current Shanghai Shenhua forward – 41 caps