<
>

Osimhen hails 30-goal Onuachu, welcomes competition

Victor Osimhen isn't necessarily threatened by the fine form of other Nigerian strikers in Europe. Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Victor Osimhen has welcomed the growing competition for places in Nigeria's striking department, praising fellow strikers Paul Onuachu, Kelechi Iheanacho and Sadiq Umar as they enjoy fine seasons in Europe.

Over the weekend, Onuachu continued his superb form, hitting a brace for Genk in their 3-2 loss at Royal Antwerp. It was his sixth goal in five games, and his ninth in 10 games for the Belgian club.

The goals took the forward's league tally to 29 for the season and 33 in all competitions, including the two he scored for Nigeria during the last international break.

Iheanacho has had his career ups and downs, but is now enjoying a breakout season with Leicester City. The former junior international has scored 10 goals in his last seven appearances for the Foxes.

Umar scored his 16th goal of the season for Spanish Segunda division side Almeria over the weekend, as they continue their push for promotion to La Liga.

All of these performances have impressed Osimhen, who has been established as Gernot Rohr's first-choice Nigeria striker. The forward is welcoming the competition, and says it is good for the national team.

"I think they are all doing quite well -- Paul Onuachu, Kelechi Iheanacho and Sadiq Umar," he told ESPN. "Of course I am happy for them and I'm happy about their form.

"And of course, being able to capitalize on their current form for the national team is really important. Kelechi has been doing quite well and he has been scoring goals. Onuachu also, I think he's the leading goalscorer in Europe which is very important.

"He gave us the winning goal in the game against Benin Republic. It shows that we can capitalize on their form and count on them."

With his compatriots scoring so freely for their clubs in Europe, Osimhen's tally of five league goals for the season pales in comparison. But his lean time is mitigated by the combined circumstances of moving to a new club, injuries and illness. These all played a big part in his slow start to the season.

And as a counterweight, his five goals in African Cup of Nations qualifying, as joint topscorer, more than justifies Rohr's faith in him. Osimhen, however, is taking none of that for granted and acknowledges that it is up to him to do what it takes to keep his spot.

"Of course, for me I just need to keep on working hard, keep on doing well for my club and for the Super Eagles also in order to remain the number one and if I'm called upon I think I will give my all and I think this is really important," he said.

'It's not for me, it's not for my individual glory, it's for the team, which is really good and I think the rest of the strikers are also ready to take the spot so I have to keep working hard."

It is testament to the spirit of the squad that Rohr has built that, despite what would appear to be the beginnings of a fierce competition for the striker spot, Osimhen is still genuinely looking out for his teammate and rival.

Despite his rush of goals in Europe, Onuachu had struggled to find the same form for the Super Eagles and had suffered from fan criticism before being dropped for the latter part of 2020.

He was only considered on the standby list for the last round of fixtures before being upgraded to the main squad after COVID restrictions in France prevented some players from honouring their callup. Onuachu ended up earning redemption, scoring a late winner against Benin Republic, before adding to Nigeria's win over Lesotho. Osimhen says the players were genuinely thrilled for the forward.

"If you have seen the highlights you can see how happy everyone was for Paul. For me, he is a great striker, he is one that possess a lot of qualities not just in the air, but also on the ground with his speed," Osimhen said.

"Every one of us was really happy for him after he scored. When he came to the dressing room, he got a round of applause from the whole squad, and he deserved it. For me, I'm really and I'm genuinely happy for him. And I think he's going to continue to build on from there. And I wish him the very best."

- Africans Abroad: Iheanacho, Chukwueze headline Nigerian excellence in Europe

It has been a while since Nigeria had such a glut of goalscoring forwards. Not since the mid-90s, when the Super Eagles enjoyed the talents of some formidable strikers, has there been such a glut of in-form attacking options available to the side.

Osimhen says that, and the quality in the rest of the squad, puts the Super Eagles in good stead to claim Afcon glory.

"I think we've got everything we need to win the next Afcon and to go even more further to qualify for the World Cup. Because this is a squad that has extremely wonderful talent in this team the from the goalkeepers to the strikers, from the strikers to the bench," he added.

"Also, of course, we have a very good coach and technical staff that can prepare us well for each game as it comes. And I think for us we have individual players who can individually win games for us. The likes of Kelechi, Samuel Chukwueze, Alex Iwobi, myself, Paul and rest of the of the squad.

"And I know of course, that a lot is being expected from this team regardless of the fact that we're young. I think with what we got on our side we can really go far as well as winning the Afcon."