Nigeria's record number of dual nationals for AFCON has a long history

Nigeria interim head coach Augustine Eguavoen named his 28-man squad for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations on Christmas day, and it features more dual nationals than ever before.

Six of the 28 players were either born or raised abroad. That is the highest number of dual nationality players, born or raised outside Nigeria, to be named in a tournament squad.

Goalkeeper Maduka Okoye, defenders Leon Balogun, William Troost-Ekong and Ola Aina, along with midfielder Joe Aribo, were all born and raised outside of Nigeria. Forward Alex Iwobi, who makes up the number, was born in Nigeria, but was raised in England from an early age.

That is two more than the four named by Gernot Rohr for the 2019 tournament, and double the 2010 number, which had Peter Osaze Odemwingie, Danny Shittu, and Dickson Etuhu.

In 2014, Stephen Keshi also named three: Odemwingie, Victor Moses, and Shola Ameobi to the World Cup in Brazil.

Nigeria's dual nationals: A History

It is a natural progression from the direction that the Nigeria national team has been going since Tunji Banjo first featured for Nigeria as a diaspora-born player. Banjo, then with Leyton Orient, made his Nigeria debut in 1980 and accumulated seven caps between then and 1981.

He was followed almost immediately by John Chiedozie, another Orient player. Although Chiedozie was born in Nigeria, he was raised in England and received his Green Eagles call up after dazzling during an Orient tour of Nigeria.

Neither Banjo nor Chiedozie made it onto a tournament squad, however. Reuben Agboola, born in Camden, was the first dual national to claim that distinction.

The defender was called up by Clemens Westerhof in 1991 while playing for Sunderland and took part in the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations where Nigeria finished third.

Two years later, Efan Ekoku was the lone diaspora representative on Nigeria's AFCON squad, and also became the first to lift the trophy. Ekoku was also the first to get on a World Cup squad.

It wasn't until 2000 before another diaspora-born player made it onto a Nigeria tournament squad. Greenwich-born Efe Sodje played at the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations and then made it to the 2002 FIFA World Cup squad. Where the others only managed single digit appearance numbers, Sodje was the first dual national to make it into double figures.

Tashkent-born Odemwingie, the first player born or raised outside of England to play for Nigeria, was also at the 2002 World Cup, but only as an alternate player and never made it onto the official squad. However, his time was to come.

The Odemwingie Effect

Odemwingie, along with fellow dual national George Abbey -- whose mother is Welsh -- were key parts of Nigeria's 2004 AFCON squad, although Abbey was born in Nigeria.

It was the first time Nigeria had featured two dual nationals in a tournament squad, and on the field at the same time.

George managed 18 appearances, but it was Odemwingie who became the first dual national player to make a sustained run with the Eagles, playing at four AFCONs, two World Cup tournaments and one Olympic Games, and amassing a record 62 caps and 11 goals during that run. That appearance record for a dual national has only recently been surpassed by Holland's Troost-Ekong.

Odemwingie's contributions also changed the way dual nationality players were viewed. At his first AFCON, the forward exploded for two goals against Bafana Bafana, announcing himself to the South Africans and the rest of the continent in a way that has never been forgotten.

His technical ability, speed, skill, and simple but intelligent play, encapsulated both the natural flair of Nigerian football and the tactical discipline of the European game.

Odemwingie helped change the way the national team played, integrating the more direct European style with the Nigerian flair, and sparking heightened interest for dual national players among fans and federation.

That led to recruiting the likes of Victor Anichebe, Sone Aluko, Hope Akpan, Bright Dike, Carl Ikeme and others who have drifted in and out of the Super Eagles at various times.

But it was not just on the field that Odemwingie made a difference. The forward brought a mentality of speaking truth to authority when needed. Where those who came before him were more restrained, Odemwingie was non-conformist about speaking his mind, an attitude which led to a very public bust-up with former coach Samson Siasia.

The current generation of dual nationals have followed Odemwingie's example and made lasting impressions. Victor Moses retired with 32 caps and 12 goals. Balogun is currently on 43 caps and Troost-Ekong is on 63 caps and counting. Even relative newbies Aribo and Okoye have already hit double figures in appearances.

Recently sacked former coach Rohr was responsible for the largest influx, handing debuts to 10 dual nationals, while approaching a few others like Ovie Ejaria, Ademola Lookman, and Kingsley Ehizibue whose paperwork are still being processed.

Not everyone is a fan of the trend

The belief in Nigeria is that these recruited players have better foundational training and exposure, and have better tactical discipline than those developed at home, who are mostly late starters.

This influx means there are those who believe that not only is the national team's identity being eroded with the introduction of so many players from abroad, but that domestic football is also suffering neglect as a result of this seeming short cut.

Of the current iteration of dual national players, German-born Balogun is the closest to Odemwingie both in terms of playing style from a defensive standpoint and outspokenness. The Rangers defender recently made headlines with his call out of the Nigeria federation over poor treatment of players.

He disputes any difference between both sets of players, and says the dual nationals are just as committed as domestic-based players.

"Whenever I step onto the pitch I always give one hundred percent and I am always passionate," Balogun told ESPN.

"Whether I am having a good performance or a bad performance, you can never actually criticize me for not trying. That is what I always give and that is the least I can do."

The same rings true for Germany's Okoye, who told ESPN: "First of all, it's a pride and honour to wear the jersey over and over again.

"That pride just makes you to take the best out of yourself and to perform as good as possible for your country."

Despite this influx of dual nationals, Victor Moses is the only one to have joined Efan Ekoku on the AFCON winners podium, as a member of the triumphant 2013 team. He made a significant contribution to the title-winning run as a first team starter, where Ekoku spent most of the time on the bench.

That has also provided a stick for opponents of dual nationals to beat the federation with, claiming that despite the better football education these players get, they have not significantly helped the national team win tournaments.

Now, with six of those players forming the spine of the team heading to the Nations Cup, the pressure is on for them to deliver.

Maduka is the starting goalkeeper, Balogun and Troost-Ekong make up the first choice centreback pairing, although whether they can continue to do so in light of recent errors remains unclear. Aribo and Iwobi are both starting midfielders. Aina is the only one who has not started games recently, although that could change quickly.

With such a record number forming the core of the team, could this be the time for the dual national players to deliver a fourth African title for Nigeria?

"I have known this team now for two and a half years," says Maduka. "And one thing I learned is that when it really comes to the point where we have to win, we are there and we're going to do everything to get the win."

Despite having very little time to whip his team together, and with barely any time or preparatory games, interim coach Eguavoen is confident the squad can return home as champions

"Yes, we have what it takes to win the Afcon," he told ESPN. "We have set goals for ourselves and we have what it takes to go all the way. But we have to take it game by game."

Super Eagles squad

Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (AC Omonia, Cyprus); John Noble (Enyimba FC); Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa); Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Defenders: Chidozie Awaziem (Alanyaspor FC, Turkey); Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Leon Balogun (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); William Ekong (Watford FC, England); Olaoluwa Aina (Torino FC, Italy); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany); Abdullahi Shehu (AC Omonia, Cyprus); Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto, Portugal); Olisa Ndah (Orlando Pirates, South Africa)

Midfielders: Frank Onyeka (Brentford FC, England); Joseph Ayodele-Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Chidera Ejuke (CSKA Moscow, Russia); Kelechi Nwakali (SD Huesca, Spain)

Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Fatih Karagumruk, Turkey); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain); Victor Osimhen (Napoli FC, Italy); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Sadiq Umar (UD Almeria, Spain); Taiwo Awoniyi (Union Berlin, Germany); Odion Jude Ighalo (Al-Shabab Riyadh, Saudi Arabia); Alex Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Emmanuel Dennis (Watford FC, England)

Dual Nationality XI:

Maduka Okoye Tyronne Ebuehi, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun, Ola Aina Victor Moses, Joe Aribo, Semi Ajayi, Alex Iwobi Josh Maja, Cyriel Dessers