Atalanta attacker, Ademola Lookman, will look back and bless the day he made the decision to switch allegiance to Nigeria, having earlier played for England during his youth career with whom he won the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 2017.
It would have been difficult for Lookman who was born in Wandsworth, Greater London to agree to play for the Super Eagles, having had a great performance for England at the 2017 U-20 World Cup which took place in South Korea.
Lookman scored three goals in the tournament, two against Costa Rica in the round of 16 and one goal against Italy in the semi-finals as England beat Venezuela 1–0 in the final, the country’s first success in a global tournament since the 1966 World Cup.
The school of thought would have seen the winger aspire to play for the senior men’s team of England popularly known as the Three Lions and he turned down the opportunity to switch allegiance to Nigeria after an approach from former Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr.
According to reports, Lookman snubbed Nigeria again in early 2018 after meeting with the then president of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick. He subsequently rejected Nigeria’s third approach in September 2018 after England boss, Gareth Southgate convinced him he was part of his plans.
Despite his caps and success for England at youth level and having previously rejected three approaches to switch allegiance to Nigeria, the forward never received a call-up from Southgate to play for the Three Lions.
As a result of his non-invitation by England, the NFF which was monitoring his situation with the European nation announced in January 2020 that Lookman would be switching his international allegiance to Nigeria.
Despite the announcement from Nigeria’s football governing body, Lookman was still undecided as regards what country he would love to represent at international between the West African nation and England.
“I have not changed my mind on wanting to represent England,” the attacking sensation reportedly said. However, on 10 February 2022, the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) approved Lookman’s request to play for the Nigerian national team.
Former Super Eagles manager, Austin Eguavoen called Lookman up for the first time ever in 2022 with the winger going ahead to make his debut for Nigeria on March 25 of that very year.
That was in Nigeria’s goalless draw with the Black Stars of Ghana at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi as part of the third round of the African section of qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Lookman was a 74th minute substitute for Moses Simon in that game against Ghana in Kumasi but started the return leg which ended 1-1 at the Abuja National Stadium on March 29, 2022 as the Eagles failed to qualify for the World Cup.
That did not deter Lookman in any way as he proceeded to score two goals in four matches during the 2023 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualification series to help the Super Eagles qualify for the tournament in grand style.
Lookman as expected made Super Eagles head coach, Jose Peseiro’s final 25-man squad list for the 2023 AFCON taking place in Cote d’Ivoire from January 13 to February 11, 2024 and has gone ahead to become the rave of the moment for Nigeria.
The 26-year-old made an assist for Victor Osimhen to net Nigeria’s equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Equatorial Guinea in their group A opener and was hugely instrumental to the Super Eagles qualifying for the knockout stages.
Lookman scored both goals for the Super Eagles in their 2–0 win over Cameroon in the round of 16 before scoring their only goal in a 1–0 win over Angola in the quarter-final as they reached the semi-final where they face South Africa.
Lookman has in the process become the fourth Nigerian to score three or more goals in the knockout rounds of a single AFCON edition, matching the record set by Odion Ighalo, Austin Jay-Jay Okocha and the late Rashidi Yekini.
Nigerians had expected Osimhen to be the talisman for the Super Eagles at the 2023 AFCON in terms of goalscoring but with Lookman taking up that mantle, his name is certainly number one on the lips of his compatriots back at home and in the diaspora.
Furthermore, Lookman who has been delivering for both club and country so far during the 2023/24 season, having registered a combined eleven goals and five assists for Nigeria and Atalanta is now seen as the man whose goals will help the Super Eagles win their fourth AFCON trophy and their first since 2013.
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