Name: Kelechi Iheanacho
Club: Taye Academy
Position: Attacking midfield/second striker
When it comes to the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, Nigeria are always a major force to be reckoned with. The Super Eaglets have won the tournament on three occasions and since 2000 have reached the final three times, winning once.
Heading into the current competition, therefore, they were rightfully considered among the tournament favourites, having narrowly lost out on clinching the African Championship earlier this year on penalties to Ivory Coast.
On Tuesday, their mightily impressive campaign continued, beating Iran 4-1 in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, to progress to the quarterfinal stage where they will meet another of the tournament's most-fancied sides in Uruguay. In the eyes of many, it is the match that will decide the finalist from the top half of the draw.
- Quarterfinals set for U17 World Cup
Coming into the tournament, attention had been focused on Udinese-bound forward Success Isaac, who began the competition well before picking up an injury in his side's 3-3 group stage draw with Sweden. Isaac's absence, though, has had little effect, with 15-year-old winger Musa Yahaya and Isaac's strike partner Iheanacho taking up the reins.
Iheanacho has been brilliant throughout and is well on his way to competing for the Player of the Tournament award should Nigeria progress.
Like the previously featured Nathan, Iheanacho served notice of his arrival at the competition in his side's opening encounter -- scoring four goals in a shock 6-1 victory over Mexico.
His first two goals came on the counterattack as a direct consequence of the pace of Isaac, with the tall left-footer showing great composure to stroke home both opportunities, while his third showed great attacking instinct to race onto a flick-on header and smash home. To complete the rout, he curled home a strike from outside the area to announce Nigeria's arrival at the competition.
While Isaac is the typical No. 9, looking to play off the shoulder of the central defenders, Iheanacho has the makings of a classy playmaker. He is consistently looking to drop deep and orchestrate play, with the runs of Isaac and Yahaya the perfect outlets. In his side's second encounter, the draw with Sweden, Iheanacho would pick up all three assists for his side, including a delightful lofted ball over the defence for Isaac to deftly volley home the side's first of the night.
While more subdued in victory over Iraq, Iheanacho was back on the score sheet in Tuesday night's second-round clash to take his tally for the tournament to five goals and four assists after just four games. Worryingly, though, he had to depart after just 32 minutes of the encounter after picking up a knock that neutrals can only hope will not limit him in the remainder of the tournament.
The Daily Mail reported earlier this week that Arsenal have taken an interest in Iheanacho, with head scout Steve Rowley in the United Arab Emirates for the ongoing competition. However, Iheanacho, who plays for Taye Academy in his homeland, will not be short of suitors and already has U.S.-based agent Henry Galeano as his representative.
Iheanacho's performances in the coming games, when he will face a better standard of opponent and the results will really matter, will help Europe's elite clubs make a better judgment as to his capabilities. Ghana's Clifford Aboagye suggested at the Under-20 World Cup that there may be a successor emerging to the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha and Abedi Pele as a true West African No. 10 playmaker. If Iheanacho can play to the level that his recent performances suggest, then Aboagye may not be alone in carrying the flag for the region in terms of pure creative talent.
For further discussion on any of the players featured in The Scout's Notebook, Christopher can be found on Twitter @chris_elastico. More of his work profiling rising talents can be found at TheElastico.com.