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Ademola Lookman: Choosing a key role in Nigeria's AFCON over England

Posted : 06 February 2024

In the summer of 2017, England clinched the FIFA U20 World Cup, and among the victorious squad were three players of Nigerian descent: Fikayo Tomori, Dominic Solanke, and Ademola Lookman. This triumph marked England's first global championship at any level since their historic 1966 World Cup win. Within this 21-man squad, Fikayo Tomori showcased defensive excellence, contributing to a solid defense that conceded only three goals in seven games.

Dominic Solanke, meanwhile, earned recognition as the tournament's best player, securing the Golden Ball award by scoring four goals. Ademola Lookman, with three crucial goals in the knockout rounds, was an integral part of England's success. Interestingly, a few months before the tournament, Nigeria's head coach, Gernot Rohr, had contacted Lookman, offering him an opportunity to play for the Super Eagles. However, Lookman declined, choosing to pursue an international career with England.

After England's triumph, it seemed Lookman had made the right decision, with Solanke making his senior England debut in November of the same year. However, as Lookman awaited his turn, the coveted invitation never materialized. Nigeria reapproached Lookman before the 2018 World Cup, but he remained hesitant, and Nigeria's early exit from the tournament seemed to validate his decision.

Despite Fikayo Tomori earning his senior England cap in 2019, Lookman's wait persisted. In January 2020, fueled by a desire to play international football and having waited long enough, Lookman initiated the process to switch allegiance to Nigeria.

Fast forward to 2022, and Lookman's request was granted a few days after Nigeria's exit from the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Lookman debuted for Nigeria a couple of months later against Ghana, marking a proud moment for the former England youth international.

While the Super Eagles failed to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d'Ivoire provided Lookman with his first major tournament for his father's country of birth, delayed to kick off in January 2024. Despite numerous attacking talents at the disposal of head coach Jose Peseiro, Lookman's name effortlessly made it into Nigeria's 25-man AFCON squad.

From under the radar, Lookman emerged as Nigeria's most outstanding performer at the 34th edition of the AFCON. His contributions included a crucial assist in Nigeria's first match against Equatorial Guinea and a sensational brace against Cameroon in the knockout rounds, securing Nigeria's progress to the quarterfinals.

Beyond his goal-scoring prowess, Lookman showcased defensive tenacity, a team-first mentality, and resilience in the face of physical challenges, elevating him as one of Nigeria's most impactful players. With Victor Osimhen struggling for goals, Lookman admirably stepped into the void, shaping the team's fortunes.

As the Super Eagles face South Africa in the semifinals, Lookman is poised to be the linchpin again. His excellent performances not only elevate the Super Eagles but also inspire other talents of Nigerian descent abroad. Lookman's journey, marked by triumph and determination, could become the catalyst for a new generation and a lasting legacy for Nigerian football. The impact of his decision may pave the way for emerging talents to contribute to forging an unstoppable Super Eagles side ahead of the 2024 AFCON and the 2026 World Cup, a legacy initiated by Ademola Lookman's pivotal decision.




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