Nigerian striker, Victor Osimhen, is eyeing a chance to qualify for the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League when Napoli battle AC Milan in the second leg of their quarter-final clash on Tuesday (today), PUNCH Sports Extra reports.
Napoli lost 1-0 in the first leg to Milan in San Siro with the injured Osimhen absent and will now hope that the presence of their talismanic striker and home advantage will be enough to turn the tie around and claim a spot in the last four of Europe’s showpiece club event.
Should Osimhen qualify for the semis with Napoli, he would become just the eighth Nigerian to play at that level of the tournament.
Finidi George was the first Nigerian to play and score in the UCL semi-final as Ajax defeated Bayern Munich 5-2 at the Amsterdam Arena in the second leg to win 5-2 on aggregate in 1995. George’s 41st minute goal helped Ajax cruise to the final, which they won, beating AC Milan 1-0. He also played in both semi-final matches in 1996 as Ajax defeated Panathinaikos to reach a second consecutive final.
Nwankwo Kanu also played against Bayern Munich in 1995 and Panathinaikos in 1996 appearing as a substitute in the semis, on both occasions. Kanu played four straight UCL semi-finals while still a teenager for Ajax, under the iconic Louis van Gaal. However, he didn’t score but was influential as the Dutch side won the title in 1995 but lost via penalties a year later to Juventus.
Another Ajax man, Tijani Babangida, played for the side that reached the 1997 semi-finals but was unlucky against Juventus once again. They lost the first leg 2-1 in Amsterdam before falling 4-1 in the return leg for a 6-2 aggregate defeat. Babangida played the full minutes of both legs.
Between 1995 and 1998, Nigerians featured in all the UCL semi-finals played at that time as Victor Ikpeba continued the Nigerian representation for the fourth straight year, when Monaco reached the last four. He played in the first leg as they lost 4-1 to Juventus in Turin to an Alessandro Del Piero hat-trick and a fourth by Zinedine Zidane. The Old Lady reached the final despite Monaco winning the second leg 3-2. In so doing, Juventus ended the Nigerians dreams for the third year running.
It would take four years before another Nigerian played in the semi-finals, when Inter Milan’s Obafemi Martins came on as a second half substitute and scored in the second leg semi-final against bitter rivals AC Milan at the Giuseppe Meazza in 2003. The game ended 1-1 on aggregate but Inter were eliminated on the away goals rule, denying Martins an opportunity to play for the title.
Five years later in 2008, Mikel Obi reached the semi-finals of the competition with Chelsea, but he would watch from the bench in both legs as the Blues edged Liverpool to reach the final, where they lost to Manchester United via penalties. In 2012, Mikel got his time in the middle of the park as Chelsea defeated Barcelona over two legs to reach the final, which they eventually won via penalties against Bayern Munich.
The seventh and most recent Nigerian to make an appearance in the UCL semi-final is Kelechi Iheanacha for Manchester City against Real Madrid in 2015/16 with Los Blancos winning 1-0 on aggregate.
It would prove a difficult test for Osimhen and the Partenopei to make it to the last four as they lost their last two meetings to the Rossoneri 4-0 and 1-0 without their then injured top scorer.