On Thursday, March 7th, sixteen teams from Europe played the first leg of their Round of 16 encounters in the Europa League. We will review the matches which Nigerian players took part in.
Dinamo Zagreb welcomed Benfica at the Maksimir in Zagreb. A single goal was enough to settle the game and give Dinamo an advantage ahead of the return leg in Portugal.
After a tight opening, the referee awarded the hosts a penalty. Bruno Petković successfully converted it in the 38th minute. Dinamo held on in the second half to record a victory. Benfica will have to play better at home and score at least two goals to go through to the quarter-finals. Iyayi Believe Atiemwen, the 23-year old Nigerian watched the game from the Dinamo bench.
Over in France, Rennes played hosts to Arsenal at the Route-de-Lorient Stadium. Alex Iwobi, the Super Eagles attacking midfielder, was in the starting line-up for the Gunners.
Three minutes from kick-off Arsenal were one nil up through Iwobi. His intention was to pass the ball into the danger zone, but the ball ended up behind the keeper and in the net. He almost scored again in the 23rd minute, but the Rennes keeper parried the ball away.
Close to halftime, Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off after a foul on Ismaila Sarr. That was his second yellow card in seven minutes, so he had to go. Rennes immediately took advantage to level the game from the ensuing free kick. Benjamin Bourigeaud was the scorer of the equalizer. The score was 1:1 at the break.
Shortly after the restart, Arsenal manager Unai Emery took Iwobi out to bolster his midfield now they were down to ten men. However, they were unlucky in the 65th minute when Nacho Monreal put the ball in his own net.
The Gunners couldn’t do much a man down and conceded a third goal in the 88th minute. Ismaila Sarr was the scorer of this one. The final score was 3:1 to the hosts who go to London with a good advantage but knowing they let in an away goal.
The Spanish side Villareal travelled to Saint Petersburg to take on Zenit. Samuel Chukwueze, the talented Nigerian youngster, was in the starting eleven for the Yellow Submarine and he played the full 90 minutes. He was recently snubbed by coach Gernot Rohr for the upcoming African Cup of Nations qualifying match against Seychelles.
Villareal were the first to score after Vicente Iborra found the net in the 33rd minute. Their lead lasted only a couple of minutes though as Zenit levelled the score in the 35th minute through Sardar Azmoun.
The visitors added a couple of more goals in the second half to all but confirm their place in the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Gerard put Villarreal 2:1 up in the 64th minute while Manuel Morlanes scored the third in the 71st minute.
The home side will have to score three goals without conceding in Spain to overturn this deficit.