Leicester City and Nigeria midfielder Wilfred Ndidi believes the Super Eagles’ growing Premier League contingent could drive the team toward FIFA 2018 World Cup qualification.
Ndidi was part of the Nigeria squad scheduled to play Burkina Faso in a friendly international at The Hive, home of English League Two team Barnet on Monday evening.
But Burkina Faso, the third-placed finisher at the recent Africa Cup of Nations, could not field a team after seven of its players failed to secure visas in time. Barnet refunded ticket sales and Nigeria played a training game between its own squad that included Ndidi, Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi, Watford’s Isaac Success and Ola Aina of Chelsea. Chuba Akpom, the 21-year-old Arsenal forward and England Under-21 international on loan at Brighton in the English Championship, participated in the second half.
“It’s a nice thing. The players who play in the English Premier League are much more experienced and it strengthens the team,” Ndidi told Newsweek after the game when asked if elite-level experience could help Nigeria. The team captain, former Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, did not travel from China for the friendly against Senegal last Thursday and the canceled Burkina Faso fixture, while Chelsea’s starting right-back Victor Moses did not join the squad because of injury.
“The progression is very nice. We still need to work hard—the coach [Gernot Rohr] also says you need to work hard towards every game,” Ndidi said of Nigeria’s momentum toward the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Rohr’s team plays its next competitive fixture against South Africa in an Africa Cup of Nations 2019 qualifier on June 12. Two potentially pivotal World Cup qualifiers home and away against Cameroon loom at the end of August and start of September.
Ndidi has had a season of great highs and alarming lows in his first year in the Premier League, with Leicester’s Premier League title-winning manager Claudio Ranieri dismissed in February and Craig Shakespeare, his former assistant and temporary replacement, taking the team into a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against Atletico Madrid. But the 20-year-old said Leicester had stuck together through it.
“We have always tried to work towards our goal. Always in the dressing room, fighting for each other and everything. We try to encourage each other,” he said.
“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” Ndidi said when asked what Shakespeare had changed from Ranieri. “I just know that it’s football, so everything changes. Everything is going well. Everybody was sad to see [Ranieri] go.”
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