Nigeria Gets Ready For AFCON

Scheduled to kick off on January 13, the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) positions Nigeria as a strong contender for clinching the title.

This expectation is rooted in Nigeria’s reputation for cultivating top-notch strikers, with notable names like Victor Osimhen and Victor Boniface contributing to their formidable lineup.

Osimhen won the title of 2023 African Footballer of the Year. Since 1999, the first Nigerian man to win the title. In the 2023 Ballon d’Or nomination, he managed to get the eighth position. 

Osimhen’s impressive performance for Napoli makes him the most sought-after striker in Europe right now. One of the big giants that wants him is Chelsea. Reports say that Osimhen is going to join the Blues this January. 

Meanwhile, Boniface is the striker for Bayer Leverkusen. He had won the Bundesliga Rookie of the Month for four months in a row, from August 2023 to November 2023. 

Boniface was also named Bundesliga Player of the Month in August 2023. On a regional level, he became the top scorer for UEFA Europa League in 2022-2023. 

In the AFCON, Nigeria is in Group A. There, the team will have to face Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau. 

Player Selection Strategy

Nigeria coach José Peseiro has the authority to pick the players for the national team. He can name up to 27 players, but he only picked 25 for his team. 

Having been the coach for 18 months, it is pretty clear that Peseiro prefers to work with players he knows. His pick for the position of goalkeeper will be scrutinized by people. 

At the moment, fans worry about the defence capabilities of the Super Eagles. This weakness can be a big challenge for the team’s ambition to win the AFCON. After all, Peseiro’s first pick for goalkeeper has made fatal blunders in previous matches. 

Nigeria’s failure to participate in the World Cup in Qatar partially was caused by a fatal mistake made by Francis Uzoho, who at the time, was the first choice for the position of goalkeeper.

It is no wonder that the performance of the Nigerian team at the moment does not inspire confidence. In the two qualifying matches for FIFA World Cup 2022, Nigeria had to settle for draws against Lesotho and Zimbabwe. 

In December 2023, Alloy Agu, the former goalkeeper for the Nigerian national team, voiced his worry about the persisting goalkeeping problem in the team. Agu pushed Peseiro to give them a chance to other goalkeepers to show their capabilities.


“It’s so sad that the goalkeeping department is still a big issue the team is battling with at the moment. The truth is, you can’t win a tournament if you don’t have a quality goalkeeper that you can bank on,” he said to Sports Brief.

Among the call for changes though, Nigerian football legend who won the gold medal in the Olympics in 1996, Taribo West, provided a piece of advice, saying that the team should stay calm and not rush the decision to change the goalkeeper.

“Getting a new goalkeeper at this point is risky because there is no time to figure out things anymore. It’s straight to AFCON from here,” he said. “Someone needs to talk to him [Uzoho] to get his head in the right place.”

European Clubs Brace For Player Absences

The AFCON will reach its final on February 10. While the timing of AFCON is coincidental with the winter breaks for some European leagues, several European clubs still have to get ready to play without some of their first-string players. 

Many teams in Ligue 1 will miss several players participating in the AFCON. Marseille will play without six players, like Chancel Mbemba, Pape Gueye, Ismaila Sarr, and Azzedine Ounahi.

Other French clubs that will have to make do without their African players are Nice, Monaco, and Lille. In England, Nottingham Forest will lose five players, while Liverpool has to play without Mohamed Salah. 

Gian Piero Gasperini, the coach of Serie A club Atalanta, expressed discontent over the situation. With AFCON taking place, Atalanta has to navigate matches without their forward, Ademola Lookman.

In the end, the show must go on. The European football leagues will continue, even without star players from Nigeria.

Nevertheless, for football enthusiasts, the excitement of placing bets on potential winning teams adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the experience.

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