If ever there was a month to forget for Nigeria’s footballers then March was it, as it ended on a very sour note with the Super Eagles failing to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, after going down on away goals to arch rivals Ghana.
There were, however, a slew of impressive individual performances at club level for many Super Eagles stars, led by the irrepressible Victor Osimhen
Victor Osimhen (Napoli)
The forward scored back to back doubles for four goals in three games for Napoli in March. Both goals led to crucial wins for his side as they continued their neck and neck race with AC Milan to the Serie A title.
The second of those braces was in a comeback win over Udinese, in a game that Napoli needed to win to keep pace with Milan, and the Nigerian delivered the goods.
But more importantly, it was the games where he did not score that Osimhen was most impressive, namely those ill-fated games against Ghana in World Cup qualifiers.
The 23-year-old brought energy, running, and fight to the game and was unfortunate not to score in both legs, especially the second leg where he thought he had scored a crucial winner, only to be called marginally offside by VAR.
Leon Balogun (Glasgow Rangers)
Like Osimhen, Balogun’s best performances for the month came in the two games against Ghana, where the Rangers defender showed that he had not just the mentality but the skill to play in games of that intensity.
Balogun, along with Osimhen, were the two standout players for Nigeria in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to make it to the World Cup. Over both legs, Balogun was continuously decisive in making tackles and clearances that kept danger at bay.
Of particular note was a lung-bursting run to make a goal-saving clearance in the first leg with denied Felix Gyan an almost certain goal. If any player deserved to go to the World Cup on the basis of those displays, it would have been Balogun.
With Rangers, he was not only a rock at the back, but scored in their 3-0 UEFA Europe League first leg victory over Red Star.
Odion Ighalo (Al Hilal)
Five goals and one assist, including a hat-trick against Ahli in the final game of the month, proved enough to move Ighalo onto the podium.
Those goals, unfortunately, were not translated to the national team as the forward found himself handed a substitute role with a few minutes to go in the second leg of the fixture.
That said, those few minutes showed what the 32-year-old is capable of, as his introduction helped set up the few dangerous opportunities the Super Eagles created in those final moments.
Cyriel Dessers (Feyenoord)
What else does Dessers have to do to get recognized by Nigeria selectors? The forward continues to do his talking where it matters most – on the pitch – and March was a particularly loud one for the forward.
Dessers scored in four consecutive games, and added two assists for good measure. Two of those goals came in the UEFA Europa League last 16 tie against Partizan Belgrade, as Feyenoord progressed 8-3 on aggregate.
Yira Sor (Slavia Prague)
The highlight of Sor’s month was three goals and one assist in a 7-5 aggregate win over LASK, as Slavia Prague advanced to the last eight of the UEFA Europa League.
The Nigerian was on target twice in a 4-1 first leg win and again in the second leg as they went down 4-3. He added a goal and assist in the second leg where they went down to a narrow defeat.
After scoring his first two goals of the competition against Turkish giants Fenerbahce, Sor returned to show that it was no fluke. Within the opening three minutes, he struck what may go down as one off the goals of the tournament, picking up a pass, turning between two defenders, then racing towards goal before unleashing a rocket of an effort.
Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam)
After the flak he took from Nigeria fans following his error at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, which saw the Super Eagles lose to Tunisia, March proved to be redemption of sorts for Okoye.
The 22-year-old enjoyed a barnstorming month for Sparta, keeping three clean sheets, including one penalty save, to finish the month without conceding a goal.
And it was not for lack of shots coming in his direction. He made five saves against NEC Nijmegen and two against Go Ahead Eagles.
Illness, unfortunately, did not allow him to take part in Nigeria’s World Cup qualifying fixtures.
Tony Nwakaeme (Trabzonspor)
Winger Nwakaeme appears to be the forgotten man of Nigerian football, but not in Turkey where he is one of the most celebrated players, especially for Trabzonspor.
Nwakaeme has scored and assisted in five consecutive games, for a total of five goals and three assists. Two of those goals and one of those assists came in March.
But beyond the numbers, the 33-year-old’s influence for Trabzon is almost unquantifiable as they continue their almost uncontested romp to the league title, leading nearest challengers Konyaspor by a massive 13 points with seven rounds of matches left to play.
Sadiq Umar (Almeria)
Umar entered March as the La Liga 2 Player of the month after a red hot February, where he hit five goals and two assists in four games.
He did not exactly hit the same heights again this month, which explains his drop on this list, but his two goals and one assist were good enough to get him on here, even if lower down the list.
Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester)
Perhaps the most important indication of an injured Ndidi’s importance is how Nigeria unravelled against Ghana without him.
Ndidi’s absence led to a domino effect in midfield that saw the Super Eagles fail to establish any sort of dominance over two legs against Ghana. That, combined with the absence of Alex Iwobi, ultimately proved decisive.
Prior to his injury, Ndidi helped Leicester secure two wins and two clean sheets against Leeds and Burnley, before falling to Arsenal where the midfielder suffered a season-ending injury.
Calvin Bassey (Rangers)
Left-back or centre back, it doesn’t matter. Bassey showed up for Rangers on the regular and helped them to three league wins, one Scottish Cup win, and one UEFA Europa League win in March, including four clean sheets.
He was also given the nod by former Nigeria coach Augustine Eguavoen to start for Nigeria in the second leg of the World Cup qualifier against Ghana and did great work until he tired out in the second half.