The Nigerian football national team often pride itself with the inclusion performing youngsters in the senior team during Africa and World football tournaments. This act is a major factor in the growth and experience in subsequent competitions.
Over the years, these youngsters have proven to become Nigeria’s great players. The exploit of the likes of Kanu Nwankwo, Jay-Jay Okocha and Sunday Oliseh at USA 94’ World Cup and the Olympic Gold winning team at Atlanta 96’ will always be an eye opener on the reliance of younger players in the national team.
Nigeria football teams are reputed heavyweights in age grade competition, having won the FIFA Under-17 championship in a record five times and many other triumphs on the continent.
Age discrepancy has been a major factor in Nigeria’s failure to repeat same successes in the senior national team. However, many Super Eagles have developed from the grassroots to become a household names.
The Super Eagles will be the youngest squad at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. A feat achieved as a result of the blend between players who were born or grew abroad (Leon Balogun, Victor Moses, Troost Ekong, Tyronne Ebuehi etc) and player who proved the mettle in the country before their sojourn outside the shores of Nigeria.
Here are 5 youngest Nigerian players to have ever featured in a FIFA World Cup;
5. Celestine Babayaro:
· World Cup Debut Age: 19 years, 9 Months and 17 days
· Game Played: Nigeria vs Spain
· Date of Birth: August 29, 1978
After being voted as part of the all-star team of the tournament in Nigeria’s Olympic gold at Atlanta 96’. Babayaro made his World Cup debut at the 1998 World Cup in France, where the Super Eagles defeated Spain in a thrilling 2-3 encounter.
4. Sunday Oliseh
· World Cup Debut Age: 19 years, 9 Month and 7 days
· Game Played: Nigeria vs Bulgaria
· Date of Birth: September 14, 1974
Oliseh played a pivotal role in Nigeria’s triumph at the 1996 Olympics. The defensive midfielder made his World Cup debut in Eagles 3-0 defeat over Bulgaria at the 1994 FIFA World Cup. The former Super Eagles captain had a brief one stint as the National team coach between 2015-2016.
3. Francis Uzoho
• World Cup Debut Age: 19 years, 7 Month and 19 days
• Game Played: Nigeria vs Croatia
• Date of Birth: October 28, 1998.
At 14, Uzoho was a second choice goalkeeper to Dele Alampasu in Nigeria’s fourth Under-17 FIFA World Cup triumph in 2013. The Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr handed him his first international debut against Argentina in November 2017. The 19-year-old goalie was in goal in Nigeria’s 2-0 defeat to Croatia at the country’s first game at Russia 2018 World Cup.
2. Lukman Haruna
· World Cup Debut Age: 19 years, 6 Month and 8 days
· Game Played: Nigeria vs Croatia
· Date of Birth: December 4, 1998.
Haruna came to limelight in Nigeria victory at the 2007 Under-17 World Cup in Korea. He made his World Cup debut three years later against Argentina at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Lukman Haruna is the only player from the 2007 set that made it to the Senior team. The 2007 set had Chrisantus Macauley, Yakubu Alfa, Rabiu Ibrahim, Dele Ajiboye etc.
1. Femi Opabunmi
· World Cup Debut Age: 17 years, 3 Month and 9 days
· Game Played: Nigeria vs England
· Date of Birth: March 3, 1995.
Opabunmi was a revelation at the 2001 Under-17 FIFA World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago where his performance linked him to several clubs in Spain and England. He was surprisingly included in coach Adegboye Onigbinde’s team to the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan.
He made his debut in Nigeria’s last game against England having confirmed elimination due to their previous defeat to Argentina and Sweden. Opabunmi’s career started declining in 2006 after he was diagnosed with Glaucoma on his left eye.