June 06, (THEWILL) – Nigerian footballers plying their across Europe were part of a set of historic fortunes for their clubs in the just concluded 2021/2022 football campaign. From the port city of Glasgow in Scotland to the frigid, densely populated Moscow in Russia, from the women’s League in Spain to the Ligue 1 side Nantes in France, the men and women of the senior nation6l football teams contributed to register one historic feat or another, while celebrating the triumphant trophy-lifting finale with which they wrapped up the football calendar in their clubs. THEWILL takes a look at how the hard work that Super Eagles’ players like the Rangers trio of Leon Balogun, Calvin Bassey and Joe Aribo, Moses Simon of Nantes, Cyriel Dessers of Feyenoord, Victor Moses of Spartak Moscow and Super Falcons’ Asisat Oshoala together with other compatriots across Europe put into their football to finish as part of the historical accomplishments of their various clubs in the season just ended.
It was a very historic season in Scotland. The three domestic trophies all went to three different teams and former Scottish Premiership champions Rangers had the chance to finish with a double after reaching the final of the UEFA Europa League. Although the Gers lost the Europa Final to Eintracht Frankfurt, Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s charges were asked to dig deep to avoid missing out on another silverware, the first of Bronckhorst’s first season in charge at the Glasgow club. The encounter demanded great amounts of stamina after the setback to Frankfurt, and the eventual outcome was another monumental effort from Rangers. Going the distance in extra time for the fourth time in 11 games and winning was a tremendous feat, especially considering the mental and physical toll Wednesday night’s shootout setback must have taken. Nonetheless, it was important to cap off a memorable season with a trophy.
Bassey put up another amazing effort to follow up his brilliance in the Europa League final. This time, he was a machine at left-back, creating three nice chances for teammates while also having a chance to score himself. Joe Aribo was similarly spectacular. Craig Gordon, the goalkeeper for Hearts, made a spectacular left-foot save to deny Aribo in stoppage time, before Wright hit the top of the bar with the final chance of normal time. Before the winning Rangers’ goal, Aribo missed a close-range header he ought to have buried but it was not a regrettable miss because substitutes Ryan Jack and Scott Wright scored two goals in three extra-time minutes to soothe the agony of their Europa League final defeat. Jack smashed a shot off the bar from the edge of the box, while Wright finished low past Gordon to give the Ibrox side the title for the first time in 13 years.
There is also Cyriel Dessers, who was largely instrumental in seeing his on-loan side Feyenoord reach the final of the maiden edition of the UEFA Europa Conference League, their first ever European final appearance in 20 years. The striker rediscovered his scoring boots, especially in Europe, scoring 10 goals in 11 matches to take Feyenoord to the final of the Europa Conference League and a place in Feyenoord’s record books, as no striker has ever scored that many for the Dutch side in any European competition. It was significant for a club boasting a historical pedigree of some of Europe’s excellent strikers as Pierre van Hooijdonk, who had the previous record of nine, Dirk Kuijt, Harry Bild, and Robin van Persie. The 27-year-old forward scored a brace against Ligue 1 side Olympique Marseille in the first leg of their Conference League semi-finals to help them reach the club’s first European final in two decades. His spectacular match-winning performance earned him the UEFA Conference League Player of the Week award and his double made him the first player in the newly formed Conference League to score 10 goals. Dessers finished the competition as the leading scorer. All these could make the striker one of the most sought-after players when the next transfer window opens in July.
Over at Moscow, Moses was similarly involved in a cup tie that had a city rivalry at stake. The Nigerian’s club Spartak Moscow were taking on Dynamo Moscow for the bragging rights of the Russia Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium. Spartak were the underdogs as they went against the third-placed side in the Russian Premier League, from their unenviable 10th place. The 31-year-old Moses, who had played a pivotal role throughout the season, domestically and in the Europa League, was in the starting lineup once more. Had he been more clinical in the early exchanges, he could have broken the deadlock when he breezed past his marker and raced through on goal. However, the shot he unleashed was feeble and did not much trouble Dynamo goalkeeper Igor Leshchuk. Fortunately, Spartak found the opener six minutes later courtesy of Alexander Sobolev for a 1-0 lead at the half-time break. Although Arsen Zakharyan levelled matters for Dynamo in the 55th minute, Quincy Promes fired home the winner for Spartak in the 72nd minute from a Sobolev assist. Moses and his teammates therefore ended their wait to clinch the domestic Cup since the 2002/2003 season, a long 19-year wait.
Much has already been said of the remarkable exploits of Super Falcons striker Oshoala and the near-perfect season she and her teammates at Barcelona Femini enjoyed in the 2021/2022 campaign that was only soiled by the loss to Olympique Lyonnais in the final of the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Apart from that loss, one of only two across all competitions throughout the season, Barca set a League unbeaten run with a perfect score of 30 wins in 30 matches, scoring an incredible 158 goals and conceding only 11. Despite a three-month injury layoff, Oshoala finished the season with 20 goals and three assists in 19 games. Although Real Madrid’s Geyse Ferreira also scored 20 goals and added one assist, she did that in 27 games of the 30-game season. Oshoala and Ferreira finished the season with the Pichichi Award while Barca lifted all three domestic trophies, the Copa de la Reina, La Liga, and the Spanish Super Cup, without losing or drawing a single match, to cap off a fantastic season. Oshoala’s feat was recognised by FIFA in a tweet that congratulated her for he Pichichi.
Other historic achievements incude Nigeria’s other Moses, Simon. The Nantes player was crucial in the progress the Ligue 1 side made after seeing out the threat of relegation that hung around the club from the previous season. The remained in the top flight through the playoffs and faced a resurgent Nice side in the final of the French Cup. Nice had knocked out PSG, via penalty shootouts in the last 16, and Marseille en route to a first final since 1997 and were the overworking favourites to take the Cup. And, in the historic first French Cup final without PSG since 2014, Ludovic Blas drilled home a penalty at the start of the second half to bring Nantes the club’s first major trophy since winning the Ligue 1 title in 2001, after a 21-year wait.
For the Cyprus-based Nigerian duo of goalkeeper Francis Uzoho and defender Abdullahi Shehu, history also beckoned in the season that just ended. Their side Omonia Nicosia finished the campaign with by lifting the Cypriot Cup. It was an accomplishment that they last recorded a decade ago. Unfortunately for Shehu, he was red-carded in just the fifth minute of the final, a decision that could have been extremely costly for Omonia but his teammates rose to the occasion, finished the final goalless and overcame Ethnikos Achnas 5-4 in the decisive shootouts. At Trabzonspor in Turkey, there had not been a title celebration for drought that was 38 years old this year. One-capped Super Eagles’ left-winger Anthony Nwakaeme helped the Turkish side to break that unfortunate streak and get the Trabzonspor fans celebrating again.
Many other players were outstanding in their individual capacities and in the contributions they made to their teams all-season as Victor Osimhen did for Napoli and Taiwo Awoniyi for Union Berlin. Porto’s Zaidu Sanusi scored to help the poor Portuguese giants win the league, Akinkunmi Amoo lifted the Danish League title with FC Copenhagen, Samson Tijani was in the Red Bull Salzburg team that won the Austrian Bundesliga title and Olanrewaju Kayode assisted the winning goal in the Turkish Cup final win for Sivasspor. Yet, the truly historic victories belong to the players focused on above.