Are Nigeria Still Favorites For The AFCON Or We Just Dey Play?

By: Kelvin Omachonu

Nigeria’s Super Eagles had to come back from a goal down to force Equatorial Guinea to a 1-1 draw in their first game of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast. It was a game where a lot was expected, a lot was promised, and a lot was produced, yet only little was given.

Going into the competition, Nigeria have the most lethal strike-force, of course, due to the presence of Napoli talisman Victor Osimhen. The Super Eagles are also the most expensive team in the competition, valued at a handsome €349.75 million. The only team that comes close is Morocco, who are valued at €300 million. Taking this fact into consideration, it’s only logical that Nigeria would be considered as favourites to cart home the coveted trophy.

However, they flattered to deceive at the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara. On Sunday, Nigeria faced an Equatorial Guinea side, who are 46 places below in the FIFA rankings. The Super Eagles dominated the fixture, creating a plethora of chances, but they failed to convert. Even Osimhen, who is one of the deadliest attackers on the planet, fluffed his lines on different occasions.

Are Nigerian players as good as we think they are?

This debate on social media may seem illogical, but it has stayed alive because of the Super Eagles’ poor performances over the last few months. Nonetheless, the fact is, Nigerian players are actually as good as we think. Some of them play in some of the biggest leagues in Europe and have squared off against some of the best players the game has produced. However, they hardly replicate their club form in the national team. Why this is so could be due to varying reasons.

For one, coach Jose Peseiro and other members of the team have always complained about the kind of feedback they get from the fans whenever they do not win games. This could affect the players mentally and also affect their performance on the pitch. Another issue could be that the players and coaches do not get their bonuses as of when due. And even though none of them have complained, this could cause a certain level of complacency among the players. Still, these would not be issues if the coaching team did their job well.

Is Peseiro clipping the wings of the Super Eagles?

Since José Peseiro took over the job in 2022, Nigeria has not impressed- even against small teams. With Peseiro as coach, the Super Eagles have failed to beat teams like Mozambique, Lesotho, Guinea-Bissau, and Saudi Arabia. They have conceded goals aplenty. In fact, going into the AFCON, Nigeria had conceded eight in their last five, and this was against teams like Lesotho, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Guinea. With this poor statistic, one would wonder what would happen when Nigeria meets fluid teams with quality players.

The players have not reached their full potential, and his team selection has been questionable at times. For example, Alhassan Yusuf, who was great in the first game had constantly been neglected for other players. Still, he eventually performed well on his debut against Equatorial Guinea and was arguably the best player on the pitch. Also, the Portuguese tactician has failed to solve the goalkeeping issues in the team, and the jury is still out on the new goalkeeper, Stanley Nwabili.

We fit rough am, Nigeria can still win the AFCON

Nigeria still have a very good chance of qualifying from Group A. The next two opponents are hosts Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau. The game against Cote d’Ivoire is expected to be a crunch fixture for Peseiro and his boys, but going by their gameplay in their opening fixture against Guinea-Bissau, the Super Eagles still have a good chance of stealing why. Cote d’Ivoire conceded ten shots against Guinea-Bissau despite the gulf in quality between both sides. This means that Nigeria will surely get opportunities against the Elephants. Still, unlike they did in the game against Equatorial Guinea, they would have to stay composed and focused to use their opportunities well.

If Nigeria can get something from the game against Cote d’Ivoire, they just need to defeat Guinea-Bissau in their last group-stage game. Ordinarily, that should be a win for Nigeria if Peseiro can work on his tactics.

If Nigeria can survive the group stage, then they can fancy their chances. Moreover, some of the big boys who have played have not exactly covered themselves in glory. Cote d’Ivoire could easily have conceded against Guinea-Bissau, Egypt dropped points against Mozambique, and Ghana were outdone by Cape Vere.

Also, the last time Nigeria won the AFCON, they were not favorites. There was a star-studded Cote d’Ivoire team, there was a solid Cote d’Ivoire side and a talented Ghanaian team. Also, there was Morocco, Tunisia, and Zambia. In addition, teams who go on to win top competitions don’t always start strong. As such, Nigerian fans can dare to dream.

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