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SERIE A

Victor Osimhen:  The latest African scoring success in Italy

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Victor Osimhen has mesmerised Napoli fans this season while his goals have been instrumental in the club claiming a first Scudetto in 33 years

In a season of landmarks, Victor Osimhen’s latest goal in Serie A brought him another record.

The Nigerian’s strike against Fiorentina on 7 May was his 47th in the Italian top flight, taking the Napoli striker past Liberia’s George Weah and making him the top African scorer in the league’s history – a notable achievement given that former AC Milan star Weah is the only African ever to win the Ballon d’Or prize given to the world’s best footballer.

But the two goal-hungry forwards are far from the only Africans to make a mark in Italy. BBC Sport Africa takes a look at some of the facts and figures for players who scored success after crossing the Mediterranean.

The trailblazer and the record breaker

By and large, African players arriving in Italy can be divided into two categories: young prospects and established stars.

Osimhen and Weah fall squarely into the second category, as do Ghanaian idol Abedi Pele, who won a Champions League title at Marseille before joining Torino in 1994, Samuel Eto’o, one of the main protagonists of Inter Milan’s treble in 2010, and Mohamed Salah, who was loaned to Fiorentina by Chelsea in January 2015 and then sold to Roma six months later.

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African duo Sulley Muntari (left) and Samuel Eto’o (right) enjoyed Inter Milan’s greatest season (2009-10) winning Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League titles before also claiming the Fifa Club World Cup

Ghanaians lead the way on the list of players from Africa with the most Serie A appearances

Then there are the likes of Ghana’s Sulley Muntari, scouted by Udinese at 16 years of age and successful at both Inter and AC Milan, and Senegal’s Khouma Babacar, who also arrived at Fiorentina as a teenage youth prospect and went on to play for a further five Italian clubs over more than a decade in the country.

But you might not have heard of the first African ever to feature in the Italian league.

Francois Zahoui, a 19-year-old striker from Ivory Coast, made his Serie A debut for Ascoli against Fiorentina on 28 October 1981.

He played 11 times across one season, often being given the unusual task by his manager, Carlo Mazzone, of coming onto the pitch as a late substitute and deliberately getting caught offside to waste time.

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Rumour has it the teenager turned up for his first training session barefoot, just as he was used to doing back home, but he went on to put his stamp on Ivorian football as coach of the men’s national team between 2010 and 2012, as well as having spells in charge of Niger and Central African Republic.

Zahoui’s 11 Serie A appearances pale in comparison to Kwadwo Asamoah, who holds the record for an African.

The Ghanaian, who turned out for Udinese, Juventus, Inter and Cagliari, played 279 times in Serie A, just nine ahead of compatriots Muntari and Alfred Duncan. Senegal skipper Kalidou Koulibaly comes next with 236 appearances for Napoli.

This season, 15 African nations have been represented in the top flight by a total of 45 players making at least one appearance.

Nigeria leads the way with eight players, followed by Morocco and Ivory Coast who each have six. Four players have represented Ghana and Cameroon, three from Algeria, The Gambia, and Senegal, two from Equatorial Guinea and one each from Angola, Mali, Guinea, Zambia, Sierra Leone and Tunisia.

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Top scorers

While Zahoui was the the first African to play in Serie A, Senegalese defender Roger Mendy was the first to score.

Having joined newly-promoted Pescara, he netted to help his side register a 2-0 home win against Brescia in February 1993. A significant goal for Africa but not for Pescara who were relegated at the end of the season.

African goals have been a constant in the Italian football landscape ever since.

Just behind Osimhen and Weah, Ivorian Franck Kessie managed 41 in 204 games for Atalanta and AC Milan before his move to Barcelona.

Senegal striker Keita Balde also hit 41 for Lazio, Inter, Sampdoria and Cagliari.

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Further down the list come Cameroon legend Samuel Eto’o and Salah, each with 35 goals.

Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen is now Africa’s all-time top scorer in Serie A, having overtaken George Weah

What stands out about this current season is the fact that, with four games left to play, four of the league’s top five scorers are African.

Lautaro Martinez is the man immediately behind Osimhen, but after the Argentine come Senegal and Salernitana forward Boulaye Dia, Nigeria and Atalanta wideman Ademola Lookman, and Angola’s and Spezia’s M’Bala Nzola.

In total, the four Africans have a combined 64 goals between them.

If that was not enough, Malawi and Inter star Tabitha Chawinga is top scorer in the women’s league.

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It is also worth noting that the last two winners of Serie A’s player of the year award are of African origin: Romelu Lukaku from Belgium and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rafael Leao who plays for Portugal but is of Angolan descent.

Osimhen the record breaker

Osimhen overtaking Weah’s Italian goalscoring record did not go unnoticed in Africa.

Indeed, the great man himself, now president of Liberia, offered “heartfelt congratulations”.

“I am truly proud of your exploits,” the 56-year-old said in a statement on social media

“When I won my first Scudetto with Milan, I said to myself, why one, why not two? I went on to win the Ballon d’Or. So why not two or more for you, Victor? The sky is your limit.

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“There are many great African players in European leagues. They are already up against the hurdles of playing against many odds…so to beat the odds and climb to the top is worth our commendation.”

The pair are the only Africans to score at least 10 goals in three consecutive seasons, with Weah achieving the feat in campaigns ending between 1996 and 1998.

Meanwhile, Osimhen’s tallies over the last three seasons have grown in conjunction with Napoli’s league finishes: 10 goals and fifth place in 2020/21; 14 goals and third place in 2021/22; 23 goals and the long-awaited Scudetto triumph this season.

Iconic moments

Be it spectacular goals, outlandish celebrations or crazy hairstyles, Africans have also been responsible for some iconic moments in Italian football over recent decades. Here are just a few.

George Weah’s full-pitch slalom – AC Milan v Verona, 8 September 1996

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It is not often you see a player score having carried the ball almost the entire length of the pitch, but that is exactly what George Weah did at the San Siro following a corner for the visiting team.

The Rossoneri striker picked up a loose ball inside his own box and sprinted forward unchallenged until halfway, at which point he started knocking Verona defenders to the ground like ninepins, somehow emerging with the ball from a tangle of yellow-shirted bodies strewn on the turf.

He then proceeded to poke the ball one side of a final opponent before running around the other side and firing low across the goalkeeper from just inside the penalty area.

Majestic, powerful and graceful, his solo run endures as one of Serie A’s greatest ever goals.

Obafemi Martins’ acrobatics – Inter Milan v AC Milan, 13 May 2003

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After first playing for Reggiana, Nigerian forward Obafemi Martins made his name at Inter Milan, whose fans loved him not only for his goals but also his flik-flak celebrations. No one in Italy had ever seen anything as spectacular!

His most high-profile strike came in the 2003 Champions League semi-final – a derby against AC Milan. After the first leg ended 0-0, Martins’ late equaliser in the second match gave Inter brief hope of reaching to the final.

Sadly for Oba Oba, as the Nerazzurri faithful called him, the game ended 1-1, allowing Milan to progress on away goals.

But his six tumbles and pop-eyed, screaming celebration remain iconic.

Taribo West’s hair-raising style – Schalke v Inter Milan, 17 March 1998

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Along with the likes of Ronaldo and Diego Simeone, Taribo West was one of the rocks upon which Inter built their Uefa Cup-winning side in 1998.

The Nigeria defender scored the decisive extra-time goal in the quarter-final against German side Schalke.

But he is largely remembered for his colourful hair which was died blue and white during his Inter days.

The braids changed to red and white when he crossed the city to join rivals AC Milan, although he only played four times for the Rossoneri so perhaps the new style did not really suit him.

A colourful character in more ways than one, West, who won an Olympic gold medal in 1996, is now a pastor back in Nigeria.

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Francois Omam-Biyik signed for Sampdoria in the summer of 1997 but football fans across Italy already knew about the Cameroonian striker.

Seven years earlier, in opening match of the 1990 World Cup in Milan, his header against Maradona’s Argentina had shocked the entire planet as the Indomitable Lions defeated the reigning world champions 1-0.

Omam-Biyik played just six times for Samp, never starting a game, but he had already done enough to make him a legend in Italy.

-BBC

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

SERIE A

Osimhen’s Napoli European hopes end with 0-0 draw against Lecce

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If Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen remains in Napoli in the next season, he will not have any action in UEFA competitions.

Napoli lost their slim chances to participate in European competitions next season when they were held to a 0-0 home draw by Lecce in their last Serie A game of the campaign on Sunday.

Last season’s champions Napoli finished 10th on 53 points, level with ninth-placed Torino who were beaten 3-0 at Atalanta in a simultaneous kick off on Sunday.

Despite their loss, Torino can now still earn a Europa Conference League playoffs spot if eighth-placed Fiorentina, who have a game in hand, win the Europa Conference League.

Fiorentina face Greece’s Olympiacos for the title on Wednesday.

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Napoli needed a win to maintain their European hopes but despite 24 shots, five of them on target, they ended their disappointing campaign winless in their last seven games.

Substitute Cyril Ngonge had a good chance to give Napoli the lead just after the break but his shot from the edge of the box was saved by Lecce goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone.

Jens Cajuste hit the far post with a low strike shortly before Ngonge hit the bar in the 64th minute.

Europa League winners Atalanta, meanwhile, secured at least fourth spot after Gianluca Scamacca, Ademola Lookman and Mario Pasalic were all on target in a 3-0 win against Torino.

They sit fourth on 69 points but can still leapfrog third-placed Juventus, on 71 points, if they beat Fiorentina in their last remaining game next Sunday.

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-Reuters

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SERIE A

Osimhen’s Napoli European hopes hanging by a thread

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Italian champions Napoli’s hopes of playing European football next season were hanging by a thread after they played out a 2-2 draw at Fiorentina in Serie A on Friday.

Napoli took the lead in the eighth minute through defender Amir Rrahmani, who nodded home a corner by Matteo Politano.

Cristiano Biraghi levelled for Fiorentina in the 40th minute from a free kick, before M’Bala Nzola put the hosts in front two minutes later when he fired a shot into the bottom corner of the net.

Napoli’s Khvicha Kvaratskhelia responded with another stunning free kick early in the second half to rescue a point for his team.

Eighth-placed Fiorentina, on 54 points and with a game in hand, are five points behind Lazio in seventh.

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They can still earn a Europa League spot either by leap-frogging the Rome side or by winning the Europa Conference League final in which they face Greece’s Olympiakos on May 29.

Ninth-placed Napoli, on 52 points, still have a slim chance of making the Europa Conference League playoffs.

-Reuters

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SERIE A

Last chance for Osimhen’s Napoli to clinch continental ticket

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Serie A - Napoli v AS Roma - Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Naples, Italy - April 28, 2024 Napoli's Victor Osimhen celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates REUTERS/Ciro De Luca

Napoli’s defence of the Serie A title has long since ended and they must beat Fiorentina on Friday to have any hope of playing European football next season.

Napoli strolled to the Scudetto last year, clinching the title with five games to spare and finishing 16 points ahead of runners-up Lazio.

This time around it was Inter Milan who wrapped up the league with five games remaining, and Napoli are ninth in the standings, 41 points adrift of the leaders with a Conference League spot their only chance of European competition.

Fiorentina, two points ahead of Napoli with a game in hand, won their previous meeting 3-1 which could prove vital should the sides end the season level on points and the head-to-head record comes into play.

Napoli are without a win in their last five games, while Fiorentina have won three of their last five league matches.

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Fiorentina have qualified for this season’s Conference League final, where they face Greek side Olympiakos in Athens, looking to go one better than last year when they lost to West Ham United in the final

The Viola, unbeaten in Europe this season, will look to end the league campaign on a high and take that momentum into the final.

Napoli will probably be without top scorer Victor Osimhen, a serious doubt for the trip to Florence with a muscular problem, while Fiorentina welcome back Andre Belotti who missed Monday’s win over Monza.

Atalanta will bid to overcome the disappointment of Wednesday’s Coppa Italia final loss to Juventus when they play Lecce away on Saturday. Atalanta are fifth, the last Champions League spot, with a three-point lead over AS Roma and a game in hand.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta side may well go into this game with one eye on next week’s Europa League final against Bayer Leverkusen, and victory in that would also guarantee them Champions League football.

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Roma can take advantage of an Atalanta slip-up when they host Genoa on Sunday. Lazio are one point behind Roma in seventh and travel to champions Inter.

Bologna moved into third place ahead of Juventus on goal difference last weekend, and the sides meet on Monday, where the hosts will hope Juve continue a poor league run of five successive draws. AC Milan, who have secured second place, are at Torino on Saturday.

There is still much to be decided at the bottom of the table.

Salernitana, the only club definitely relegated, on Monday they host Hellas Verona who are 14th in the standings, two points ahead of Empoli in 17th.

Empoli on Sunday visit Udinese, another side in danger who one point ahead in 15th. Sassuolo are 19th, three points from safety, and must beat 16th-placed Cagliari on Sunday to give themselves any hope of survival.

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-Reuters

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