Nathan Tella says it would be “a dream come true” to make his debut for Nigeria in the 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifiers next week.
The 24-year-old Bayer Leverkusen winger has been named in the Super Eagles squad to face Lesotho and Zimbabwe.
Born in Lambeth, England, but eligible for Nigeria through his parents, his international future had been the subject of significant speculation since he first began to make an impression in the youth set-up at Arsenal.
“It’s always been about representing Nigeria,” Tella told BBC Sport Africa.
“My family will be over the moon to watch me fulfil that dream.
“I am proud of my British and Nigerian sides and lucky to have both backgrounds. Of course we have both worlds, but ours is a proper Nigerian home [with] culture, food and tradition.”
Tella was one of the standout performers for Burnley last season as the Clarets earned promotion back to the Premier League, but he returned to parent club Southampton at the end of the campaign.
The forward, who is capable of playing either out wide or through the middle, had 22 goal contributions in the Championship last season and joined Leverkusen in a reported £20m deal in August.
His new side are undefeated at the top of the German Bundesliga after 10 matches and his speed, dribbling and delivery into dangerous areas would, in theory, give the Super Eagles an added dimension in attack.
After missing out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the West Africans kick off their qualifying campaign for 2026 against Lesotho and Zimbabwe on 16 and 19 November respectively.
Nigeria are expected to come through Group C ahead of the likes of South Africa and Benin, with the group winners guaranteed a spot in Canada, Mexico and the United States after the finals were expanded from 32 to 48 teams.
Nigeria attack strong despite Osimhen absence
The expectation on boss Jose Peseiro delivering World Cup qualification hinges on an abundance of riches at the top of the pitch.
Nigeria boasts a plethora of strikers shining in the finest leagues in Europe, headlined by reigning Serie A top scorer and African Player of the Year frontrunner Victor Osimhen – although the 24-year-old Napoli man will miss this month’s qualifiers because of injury.
The likes of Victor Boniface, Taiwo Awoniyi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Terem Moffi are also good options.
While there is no scarcity of firepower, there are, however, concerns over the quality of the supply for the stellar cast of forwards in the roster.
Aside from Fulham midfielder Alex Iwobi, the majority of Nigeria’s midfielders are more defensively minded, a state of affairs that limits the Super Eagles’ potential.
Nigeria have succeeded in integrating England-born players like Ola Aina, Semi Ajayi, Joe Aribo and Ademola Lookman into the current squad, and it is expected that Tella will follow in the same vein.
“The players in the squad are talented and to compete against them in order to represent a massive nation like Nigeria is the stuff of dreams,” Tella added.
“Nigeria is undoubtedly one of the biggest in African football and the passion of the fans is on a different level.”
While Lesotho and Zimbabwe are unlikely to provide the sternest tests in their opening two qualifiers, there remain misgivings about Nigeria’s strength at the back.
Goalkeeper Francis Uzoho came under fire following errors in the October international window and Maduka Okoye, who recently made his competitive debut for Serie A side Udinese, has yet to regain public trust and self-belief since the Super Eagles’ last-16 exit from the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
Nigeria have only kept three clean sheets since Peseiro took over as coach in May 2022, two of which came against Sao Tome, ranked 186th in the world.
Nigeria squad for November World Cup qualifiers
Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (Omonia Nicosia, Cyprus), Olorunleke Ojo (Enyimba), Maduka Okoye (Udinese, Italy).
Defenders: Ola Aina (Nottingham Forest, England), Chidozie Awaziem (Boavista, Portugal), Bright Osayi-Samuel (Fenerbahce, Turkey), Bruno Onyemaechi (Boavista, Portugal), Kenneth Omeruo (Kasimpasa, Turkey), Semi Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion, England), Calvin Bassey (Fulham, England), Jamilu Collins (Cardiff, Wales).
Midfielders: Raphael Onyedika (Club Bruges, Belgium), Joe Aribo (Southampton, England), Frank Onyeka (Brentford, England), Alex Iwobi (Fulham, England).
Forwards: Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England), Sadiq Umar (Real Sociedad, Spain), Moses Simon (Nantes, France), Ademola Lookman (Atalanta, Italy), Nathan Tella (Bayer Leverkusen, Germany), Taiwo Awoniyi (Nottingham Forest, England), Terem Moffi (Nice, France), Victor Boniface (Bayer Leverkusen, Germany).
Source link : https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/africa/67356439?at_medium=RSS&at_campaign=KARANGA
Publish date : 2023-11-10 12:51:18