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African All Stars

Dessers has final chance to bring glory to Nigerians after miserable season

2:42 AM EDT 5/25/22
Cyriel Dessers Feynoord.
The Feyenoord forward will strive to come up trumps when his side do battle with Jose Mourinho’s Roma in the Europa Conference League decider

Whilst observers focused on the semi-final first leg encounter between Leicester City and Roma, bigging it up as the final before the final, Cyriel Dessers was making his mark against Olympique Marseille in the other semi.

The Feyenoord forward was the undoubted key man heading into that game with the Ligue 1 outfit in Rotterdam having netted eight times in Europe’s embryonic competition at the time, one fewer than Roma’s Tammy Abraham.

A brace against Marseille lifted the Dutch outfit to a 3-2 success on home turf, handing them a slender advantage going into the reverse fixture in France.

Both goals came at crucial points in the game, too. The first opened the scoring after 18 minutes, 11 minutes after failing to tuck away a clear-cut opportunity following Luan Peres’ misjudgement handed the Nigerian a chance and the second, one minute into the second half, put the Eredivisie outfit back in front after they had lost a two-goal advantage.

The second was all his doing as he pressed the Marseille defence in isolation and profited from Duje Caleta-Car’s under-hit back pass to score what proved to be the winning goal on the day and in the tie.

That strike set up Wednesday’s decider against the competition’s favourites and sees the two leading scorers in the competition battle with the Super Eagle one goal ahead in their duel.

Most of the attention has been on Mourinho’s feat in guiding the Giallorossi to its first major European final in which he also became the first coach to reach the decider of a continental competition with four teams.

Roma supporters have had to watch year after year for the past 14 years without any trophy of any kind, adding to the importance of this year’s Europa Conference League for the Serie A club whose last honour was a Coppa Italia title in 2008.

They are 90 minutes — possibly 120 — away from ending that prolonged wait for a title, and they would have none other than Mourinho guiding them through what would be a testing 90 minutes against Dessers and his free-scoring colleagues.

For the Nigerian’s part, the challenge of claiming the club’s fourth major European title is the goal and success would undoubtedly be welcome by Super Eagles fans who have witnessed setback after setback for several of its stars in the 2021/22 campaign.

While Victor Osimhen set a new individual record, scoring 14 times in Serie A, Napoli undoubtedly missed a huge opportunity to claim its first Scudetto in decades.

Luciano Spalletti’s men were the form team heading into the final weeks of the season, yet they were undone by the absence of a killer instinct at key moments in the run-in to end the Partenopei’s dream.

For Samuel Chukwueze, despite a decisive goal in the quarter-final of this year’s Champions League at Bayern Munich, the wide attacker will not return for next year’s competition owing to Villarreal’s seventh-place finish in La Liga.

Rather than participate in Europe's premier club competition for successive seasons, or even have the chance to reclaim the Europa League title they won in 2020/21, the Yellow Submarine will have to make do with the Europa Conference League next season. A disappointment for Unai Emery’s side who undoubtedly underachieved this year.

Furthermore, Terem Moffi’s struggles to hit the heights of 2020/21 with Lorient was remarkable, while Emmanuel Dennis’ relegation with Watford and Alex Iwobi’s close shave with the drop stood out. Having said that, Rangers’ Nigerian contingent likely ended this season wondering what might have been.

Joe Aribo opened the scoring in last week’s Europa League final, but the ‘Gers could not hold on and ultimately lost on penalties. Calvin Bassey was a standout performer in Seville, yet it was not enough for the Scottish side who also failed in its Premiership title defence, losing out to fierce rivals Celtic.

The aforementioned pair and Leon Balogun featured in the weekend’s domestic cup success over Hearts, preventing a hat-trick of let-downs.

Indeed, Nigerian football fans will be drawn to rooting for Dessers in Wednesday’s Conference League final. The competition’s top scorer represents the nation’s last hope in what has been a campaign of fiascos and near misses for the national team and some standout players across Europe.

The Feyenoord forward will not be a favourite in Tirana, but the unfazed forward will strive to show his decisive quality and put smiles on supporters’ faces to somewhat lift the gloom of a testing 2021/22 campaign.