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Iheanacho, Chukwueze headline continued Nigerian excellence in Europe

Robin Jones/Getty Images

Nigerian stars were at the forefront of African achievement in European football last weekend, yet again, with the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho, Simy Nwankwo and Terem Moffi all among the goals.

Elsehwere, Hakim Ziyech was the match-winner as Chelsea reached the FA Cup final at Manchester City's expense, while Sadio Mane ended his extended goal drought against Leeds United.

Africans decide the FA Cup semi-finals

The irresistible force met the unstoppable object in Sunday's semifinal -- or so it had appeared -- as in-form Kelechi Iheanacho came up against a Southampton defence that hadn't conceded in the FA Cup this season.

But the Nigeria striker truly is the man of the moment right now, and, predictably, it was he who extended his fine goalscoring run to fire the Foxes into their first FA Cup final since 1969.

The attacker had equalled his career-best Premier League return this season heading into the fixture, and he extended his goalscoring run to 10 in his past seven matches for Leicester City with the Wembley winner.

"It's really amazing, it's a dream come true," he told LCFC TV. "I didn't know it's going to come like this, but we are in the final now so we are really happy. We need to get back and work hard and focus in our next game. Hopefully, the final, we'll really work had that we win."

Evading his marker in the 55th minute, Iheanacho was picked out by Jamie Vardy -- pulling a stint on the wing -- and calmly put the ball past Fraser Forster after his initial effort, which was going wide, had bounced back off Jannick Vestergaard.

In his current form, the 24-year-old was never going to miss from eight yards, even if he and Vardy had struggled to strike up a rapport in the first half.

"It was a beautiful goal," Iheanacho said, purring about the work of his teammate. "As I said before, the partnership between me and Vards is outstanding. His running off the ball is really good. He took the defenders on and he cut it back. I was unlucky with the first shot. It bounced off the defender and came back to me, and I picked the corner. I'm really happy we did it together as a team."

Beyond sending Leicester to the final, the goal was Iheanacho's 14th in 19 outings in the FA Cup -- no one has more in the competition during that period -- while no Nigerian since Odion Ighalo in 2015-16 has hit the 15-goal mark while at a Premier League club.

Iheanacho's emotion at the final whistle, as Leicester's progress was confirmed, was another memorable moment in the striker's feel-good emergence in recent months.

Next up for the Foxes, they will face Chelsea team in the final after Hakim Ziyech fired the Blues beyond Manchester City.

It was the biggest moment of the Moroccan's troubled Chelsea career -- and a marked improvement on his listless display when they were defeated by City at Stamford Bridge in January -- as he finished off a counterattacking move in style.

While Ziyech had Timo Werner to thank for setting him up for the 55th-minute winner, the pair's interplay must surely have had Frank Lampard -- had he been watching -- ruing the North African's long fitness absences since his arrival in West London.

"Timo did a good run into the space, I made my run, it was a good delivery and I put it in easy," the former Ajax playmaker told Chelsea's official website. "The second half was a little bit difficult to close all the spaces, but we scored the one goal that we needed. It was enough."

Ziyech could have had another goal during the second half, only to fire at City goalkeeper Zach Steffen, but his performance prompted optimism that he -- and Chelsea -- are primed to end the season strongly.

Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, who sat out for Kepa Arrizabalaga, faces an anxious wait to see if he will get the nod for the final meeting with Leicester.

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Premier League

Another Nigerian, Josh Maja, thought he'd given Fulham three valuable points away at Arsenal in Sunday's early kick-off after he had put the Cottagers ahead from the penalty spot just before the hour mark.

But Eddie Nketiah's 97th-minute equaliser -- the latest Premier League goal since Alexis Sanchez against Burnley in January 2017 -- salvaged a point, if not pride, for the Gunners.

At the London Stadium, Issa Diop became the second player this season -- after teammate Tomas Soucek -- to score at both ends in West Ham United's 3-2 defeat by Newcastle United, opening the scoring with an own goal before netting for the Hammers late in the contest.

On Monday, Liverpool's Sadio Mane served a reminder of his class even though the Reds dropped two points in a 1-1 draw with Leeds United.

Mane opened the scoring after being teed up by Trent Alexander-Arnold, ending his 10-game run without a goal in the top flight, while extending his impressive record away from Anfield: The Senegal forward has scored 75% of his Premier League goals this season away from home, although he was subbed off for Mohamed Salah before he could add to his tally.

Serie A

Simy Nwankwo extended his remarkable goalscoring form for Crotone, equalising from the penalty spot at home against Udinese before Rodrigo de Paul netted the winner for the visitors late in the second half.

The Nigeria striker -- who continues to be overlooked by Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr -- now has 10 goals in his past seven matches, having netted in every fixture since the end of February.

His penalty was his 17th league goal of the campaign, with only three players in Italy bagging more so far this season; not since Blackburn Rovers' Yakubu in the 2011-12 season has a Nigerian scored more in one of Europe's big five leagues.

Crotone remain rooted to the foot of the table, despite Simy's one-man heroics, having lost their past five games; they have won only four league victories all season.

The Sharks have scored more goals than 12th-placed Udinese, but their defence has shipped 79 goals in 31 matches and appears destined to send them back down to Serie B.

In Naples, Victor Osimhen was ineffective as Napoli held league leaders Internazionale to a credible 1-1 draw.

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La Liga

In Spain, Samuel Chuwkueze answered those who question his ability to deliver an end product with a brace for Villarreal in their 5-1 pummelling of Levante.

The winger had gone 17 games without finding the net before his double, with the efforts coming on the back of his midweek Europa League assist against Dinamo Zagreb.

Now, perhaps taking a leaf from Iheanacho's book, his task must be to build on his latest performance and string together a run of decisive outings.

"He's a very young player who has to find consistency," Villarreal coach Unai Emery told the club website. "We need to take a step forward with him and be demanding.

"He's a footballer with great quality, and has a lot of talent, but he needs to improve in front of goal."

The Yellow Submarine next meet Deportivo Alaves in midweek before a Sunday showdown with Barcelona.

Also in Spain, Youssef En-Nesyri scored the winner as Sevilla FC defeated Real Sociedad 2-1 to remain six points behind league leaders Atletico Madrid.

Ligue 1

Finally to France, where Terem Moffi was another Nigerian player to produce a fine performances with a double against Marseille.

The Lorient forward, who enjoyed such a sensational run at the start of 2021, is again picking up form as we head towards the season's denouement.

After his decisive assist against Brest, and Les Merlus' consolation against Racing Club de Lens, he opened the scoring for Lorient and then equalised in the 70th minute for his 10th and 11th goals of the season.

Marseille ultimately bagged a winner through Pol Lirola, to leave Lorient hovering just one point above the bottom three with five games to play.

Denis Bouanga 's fifth goal in 10 games wasn't enough for Saint-Etienne to defeat Paris Saint-Germain as they fell to a 3-2 defeat, while Algeria's Andy Delort added his 12th goal of the season as Montpellier held league leaders Lille 1-1.