NigeriaCoach: Solomon Martins Yola
Four years ago, Nigeria entered their first-ever edition of the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, finishing in seventh place after securing two wins and a draw while conceding four losses. It was an excellent learning experience for the African side, which will be the only team from the African Handball Confederation (CAHB) taking part at Bulgaria 2023.
In that tournament, the main issue for Nigeria was their attack, which only scored 185 goals in seven matches, the second-lowest number in the competition, only topping Malta in that respect. Still, they will hope to aim higher this time, especially as they boast one of the most exciting players in the competition.
19-year-old right back Faruk Yusuf is truly a diamond in the rough and was snapped up by Polish powerhouse Industria Kielce in 2020, featuring in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League for Talant Dujshebaev’s side before being loaned to Spanish outfit Fraikin BM. Granollers.
At Granollers, he has featured more prominently, gaining crucial playing time, both in the Spanish league, the ASOBAL, where he has scored 93 goals in 24 matches for an average of 3.88 goals per game, but also in the EHF European League Men, where Yusuf is one of Granollers’ best scorers with 55 goals.
That experience will bode excellently for Nigeria, whose extended roster counts only three players featuring in Europe, with Yusuf joined by right back Obinna Ani, who plays in Russia for Zvezda Zvenigorod, and Okubuike Kingsley Ifenna, who features for Beer Sheva in Israel.
Ani was also the top scorer for Nigeria at the previous edition of the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, having scored 33 goals in seven matches at Georgia 2019. Therefore, his experience will likely be crucial in tipping the balance as they face a tough group, with experienced sides like Bulgaria and Azerbaijan waiting in the wings.
Key players: Faruk Yusuf (right back), Obinna Ani (right back), James Akorede Kuti (centre back)
History in the tournament: 2019: 7th
Group at Bulgaria 2023: Group D (Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Nigeria)