AFCON 2023: Nigerians bank on surprise as Super Eagles begin campaign tomorrow

Aliya Moses
5 Min Read

If there was any period Nigerians were unsure of their national team, it is now. Nigeria’s Super Eagles will be participating in the 34th Africa Cup of Nations which begins today in Ivory Coast. Most Nigerians are indifferent and not bothered about what would be the outcome of Nigeria’s campaign in AFCON 2023. They are not sure of their team. But there is still a marginal population that is optimistic about Nigeria’s chances in the tournament.

The Super Eagles arrived in Abidjan on Wednesday with 24 of the 25-man squad who will fly the country’s flag at the tournament. In the evening of the same day, the players had a first impression of the Alassane Quatara Stadium, venue of their opening group match against Equatorial Guinea tomorrow. After the training session coach, Jose Peseiro made a poignant declaration to the press, “we want to win.” Peseiro’s declaration was more of a warning to Nigeria’s group opponents, especially, Equatorial Guinea.

Despite his not so encouraging record, his warning could be interpreted as a declaration of intent. He has always maintained that he dreams and wants to win the AFCON with the Super Eagles. Yet his optimism has not been matched by results. Super Eagles recent outings don’t give one much hope.

After struggling to pick a ticket for the AFCON, the Super Eagles played four matches against Saudi Arabia(2-2), beat Mozambique(3-2), Lesotho in Uyo 1-1 and lost 2-0 to the AFCON-bound Guinea national team. In Uyo, the Super Eagles came from behind to draw against Lesotho in a 2026 World Cup qualifier. Their run-up to the Nations Cup doesn’t inspire confidence and a wonderful performance in Ivory Coast will be a surprise to those who have followed them recently.

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But Peseiro was defiant after the loss to Guinea in Abu Dhabi. “It is important to win of course, I prefer to win than to lose but the game is not important because we tried to use a new system,” he said in his post-match on NFF TV.

Equatorial Guinea, on the other hand, have been unbeaten in four straight matches. They have won two and drawn two.

It has been tough for the Nigerian coach. His team lacks the finesse and chemistry great teams possess. With a lingering goalkeeper crisis and a midfield that lacks creativity, Peseiro’s job has been made more difficult with the late injuries to some key players. So, apart from his perceived technical inadequacies Peseiro is faced with the frightening absence of dependable players like Wilfred Ndidi of Leicester City, Victor Boniface and Taiwo Awoniyi. Kelech Iheanaxho also of Leicester City just recuperating from injury is expected to join the team today. It was gathered that Sadiq Umar too was injured. This, no doubt, is enough to give the coach some gray hair.

Yet, some Nigerians believe that the three-time African champions, the Super Eagles can still give Nigeria a good representation in Ivory Coast. The squad still boasts many quality players. With CAF’s best male player of the Year and one of the best strikers in Europe, Victor Osimhen, Terem Moffi of Nice( a late replacement for Victor Boniface), Samuel Chukwueze of AC Milan, experienced Moses Simon of Nantes, Alex Iwobi of Fulham, Calvin Bassey also of Fulham, Ola Aina of Nottingham Forest, among others in their ranks, the Super Eagles should be able to beat Equatorial Guinea tomorrow and overcome any opposition in a group which also has Guinea-Bissau and hosts the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire.

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The onus now rests on Jose Peseiro to prove that he is capable of pulling off the unexpected – a good outing with the Super Eagles. With good coordination, the Eagles are capable of beating any team in the continent.

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