UEFA have released the 2019 Nations League Team of the Tournament with a defender of Nigerian descent, Manuel Akanji, beating celebrated Liverpool star, Virgil van Dijk, to the list.
Ironically, Akanji was part of the Switzerland team that failed to get a win in the latter stages of the new European competition as the Swiss first fell 3-1 to eventual winners Portugal in the semi-final before losing to England on penalties in the third/fourth play-off.
Akanji played all 120 minutes of that play-off against England and went on to score one of the best taken kicks during the penalty shoot-out which was won by the Three Lions after goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford, saved substitute Josip Drmic’s attempt.
Akanji was born to a Nigerian father and Swiss mother in Neftenbach, a municipality in the district of Winterthur in the canton of Zurich in Switzerland.
He made his debut in the Switzerland national football team and played all 90 minutes in the 2-0 win against Faroe Islands in a World Cup qualification match on played on June 9, 2017.
Akanji went on to feature for the Red Crosses at the 2018 World Cup, playing four matches as the Swiss team made the round of 16 before crashing out in a 1-0 loss to Sweden.
After that match in July 2018, Akanji revealed to reporters that he had no regrets choosing to play for the Swiss national team as he was never invited to play for the Super Eagles.
“I don’t think I have any regrets playing for Switzerland (at Russia 2018). Switzerland got to the second round and Nigeria didn’t,” said Akanji. “My parents didn’t talk to me about which country to play for or which country I should not play for. They keep supporting me.”
He added: “Nigeria never called me to play (for the Eagles). There was no question where I should play because Switzerland asked me if I wanted to play for them. I heard nothing from Nigeria. So it was my decision.”
Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Borussia Dortmund defender was joined on the team of the tournament by fellow Swiss defender Kevin Mbabu, with Pickford, highly sought-after Ajax captain, Matthijs de Ligt, as well as Portuguese duo Ruben Dias and Raphael Guerreiro making up the team’s defence.
Nations League Player of the Tournament, Bernardo Silva, was listed alongside Netherlands duo, Marten de Roon and Frenkie de Jong, in midfield while Cristiano Ronaldo and Memphis Depay were the attackers in the team.
As for Van Dijk, the Liverpool star was left out despite helping the Netherlands beat Switzerland in the competition’s semi-final after surprisingly finishing top a group which also included Germany and world champions, France.
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