The Moustached Journalist says;
Before the Super Eagles of Nigeria’s last game of the group stage against the Djurtus of Guinea-Bissau at the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Stadium on Monday, the three-time African champions had started their 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) campaign in a devastating 1-1 draw against Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea but came back stronger to defeat hosts Les Elephants of Côte d’Ivoire in a one-nil victory to keep their hopes of qualification to the next round alive.
Sitting in second-place position in Group A with four points from two games, Nigeria were most determined to secure a place in the Round of 16 of Africa’s biennial tournament when they battled with Guinea-Bissau in their last group stage game who had zero points and were already eliminated from the competition having lost their opening two fixtures to Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea.
With Baciro Cande’s men looking to end their winless streak at the AFCON and would fancy their chances against Nigeria whom they defeated in the qualifying series of the tournament.
Regardless, the West African side were overwhelming favourites going into the game against the Djurtus. However, the most important thing was that a draw in the game would be enough for the Super Eagles to earn a place in the knockout stages.
Meanwhile, in the build-up to the game, Super Eagles Head Coach José Peseiro in an interview with the media on Sunday said that it is important for his side to be focused heading to their Group A clash with Guinea-Bissau. The Portuguese tactician, however, warned his players to respect their opponent and not to be carried away by the impressive win against Côte d’Ivoire.
“We beat Cote d’Ivoire, it’s good for us, our confidence and what we want to achieve in this competition. It also improves our confidence, but we also need to show more commitment. We have to respect the opponent. Guinea-Bissau have good players, they can beat any team.
“We have seen so many shocking results in this competition already. We need to take it game by game and not think too far. We want to show better performance, show our quality, and capacity. If we do that no team can beat us,” the 63-year-old gaffer said.
Having assistant captain William Troost-Ekong joined the injury list of Alhassan Yusuf, Kenneth Omeruo stepped up as the skipper and coordinated the business in the defence alongside Semi Ajayi, Calvin Bassey and Ola Aina who was later withdrawn from the action for Chidozie Awaziem while Nigeria’s fast-rising favourite, Stanley Nwabali, continued with his confidence in goal for the third consecutive game.
Ademola Lookman, Zaidu Sanusi and Alex Iwobi were also introduced in the heat of the second half but were initially replaced by Moses Simon, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Joe Aribo in the starting line-up.
Frank Onyeka kept his place in the centre midfield, though was subbed off for Raphael Onyedika with Samuel Chukwueze as right-wing forward and Reigning African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen in the centre-forward.
Having never lost all three games in the AFCON group stages, the already-eliminated Guinea-Bissau mounted an impressive resistance to thwart the Super Eagles, however, were rocked when an underpressure Opa Sanganté blasted an attempted clearance into the roof of his net to hand Nigeria a fortunate lead in the 37th minute.
With qualification to the knockout stages at stake, José Peseiro’s men looked comfortable with a one-goal lead into the first-half stoppage time, with what would have been two-nil up from Victor Osimhen’s missed header. Sadly it was for the hosts Côte d’Ivoire who were concurrently thrilling by the same scoreline at the break to the table-toppers Equatorial Guinea at the Alassane Quattara Stadium in Abidjan.
The tense drama continued after the restart, with both teams on forefoot at every given opportunity. It was an end-to-end encounter with Nigeria having the best of the chances until when Osimhen thought he had doubled the lead from a tap-in, only for centre referee Bouchra Karboubi to signal handball in the build-up, denying Nigeria a second goal.
Minutes later, Guinea-Bissau were in celebration of a potential equaliser when Franculino was denied a goal due to an offside flag before the same fate welcomed Nigeria at the other end with another goal disallowed due to a handball by the 25-year-old Napoli talisman.
At the blast of the final whistle at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, the Super Eagles ultimately clawed a one-nil victory after beating a hard-fought Guinea-Bissau in their 100th AFCON appearance to go through as runners-up with seven points behind Group A leaders Equatorial Guinea who eventually humiliated the hosts Ivory Coast by 4-0.
The result means that Nigeria progress safely to the knockout stages, although finished second-place behind Equatorial Guinea, leaving the Super Eagles to face the second-placed team in Group C, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon tonight (Saturday) at the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan by 9:00pm Nigeria Time.
The bitter truth is that Nigeria may be through to the next round, but this was not a performance that will silence the critics. The Super Eagles struggled to control the game against a Guinea-Bissau team who are ranked outside the top 100 teams in the world and failed to convert their chances to goal many times in the game.
In the space of 14 days into the 2023 AFCON tournament, Nigeria have managed to swing perceptions surrounding the national team as one of the favourites but saw their ratings drop following their stalemate against Equatorial Guinea in their opening group match.
While their performance in that game led to revision of notes from Nigerians, José Peseiro and the Super Eagles had to rewrite themselves into the list of challengers when they put up a resilient performance against hosts Ivory Coast days later.
Nigeria not only turned it around but also largely overpowered the Elephants in an important 1-0 victory. It was a result that has given Nigeria football fans and the Super Eagles renewed hope and a huge boost for the remainder of the tournament.
Under José Peseiro, the Super Eagles have tended to blow hot and cold. When they were expected to rout Equatorial Guinea, they failed woefully and when everyone expected them to crumble against Ivory Coast, they rose to the occasion.
But the onus lies with Nigeria to affirm their status as a true tournament favourite. A convincing win against Guinea-Bissau would have been a good message to the Indomitable Lions ahead of tonight’s Round of 16 clash, which at this moment may not seem to be the case with the poor displays from the last game of the group stage.
No matter how one will criticize their finishing in the group stages, Nigeria’s victory over Ivory Coast was an absolute statement win. The Super Eagles came up against a big team and also one of the favourites they stood tall.
The question now is whether the Super Eagles are back in contention for their fourth AFCON title. Their performance against the hosts might suggest so but it is confident enough to say, especially for a team that has often switched off when it matters most in two of their group-stage matches.
It is the tendency to self-destruct that makes the Super Eagles vulnerable and unreliable. They could have everything going their way in one moment and completely fumble it in the blink of an eye.
The bottom line, though, is that Nigeria has proven, at least by how they can curtail pressure when less expected to strive, that they can go shoulder-to-shoulder with the best on the continent even in their lowest points.
What is left now is the consistency and concentration needed to go all the way and it remains to be seen whether the Super Eagles can produce it as the tournament enters its business end.
One will agree with the fact that the Super Eagles deserved the credit for their performance in the 2019 edition. The team was impressive and outstanding with their style of football from the group stages till the Semi-Finals where they unfortunately edged out to Algeria in the quest to taste the finals once again.
To replenish their losses at the tournament, Nigeria went on to win the bronze medal after defeating South Africa in the third-place match. This was a moment many Nigerians saw as the return of the ‘fierce Eagle’.
With the crop of talents going into the last edition in Cameroon, Nigeria made it a walk in the park with a one-hundred percent excellent run in the group stages, finishing with three wins from three group stage matches.
This resounding success in 2021 confirmed the belief in a better football team as they finally gained everyone’s attention after defeating one of the North African powerhouses Egypt, Sudan and Guinea-Bissau.
However, it took just only one bad day in the competition for Augustine Eguavoen’s men to be sent back home when they fell short in the Round of 16 against a Tunisian side that qualified as one of the third-best teams in that tournament.
In the last two editions, the Super Eagles have tremendously come close to clinching a fourth AFCON title, especially in 2019. With the team’s commendable performances in the qualification rounds of this year’s edition, winning every other match besides their 1-0 home loss to Guinea-Bissau.
One would have expected the team to outshine and earn a good name for the country in this tournament but are yet to show full competence due to their recent poor performances going into the knockout stages.
It would be unreasonable to think that a country like ours is finding it so difficult to convert chances to goals with the retinue of attackers in José Peseiro’s disposal than some teams in the tournament – eight forwards.
Now that we cannot afford to score more goals, what else do we do than fortify our defence, duel with the opponent in the midfield and perhaps, pray for a penalty kick or an own goal? If the Super Eagles still have the ambition of going far in this AFCON, the attacking department is that one area that needs urgent attention.
Aside from Osimhen’s goal against Equatorial Guinea in the 1-1 draw of the opening group match, Nigeria have failed to score from open play, relying on William Troost-Ekong’s second-half penalty against Côte d’Ivoire and an Opa Sanganté’s own goal in the win against Guinea-Bissau.
Now, the team is heading to the knockout round to face Cameroon where there would not be a second chance to right any wrong. This means that the forwards must try and convert their scoring chances when they come their way.
Despite extending the late call-up to Terem Moffi as a replacement for injured Victor Boniface, the Portuguese gaffer has not deemed it fit to throw him into the mix together with Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa all dropped to the bench. A major challenge for the Super Eagles is the near misses in every game with almost nobody except Osimhen to put the ball in the back of the net.
If this can be thoroughly handled and taken care of on the training ground, there is no reason for the Super Eagles not to triumph over Rigobert Song’s men and cruise into the Quarter-Finals to face either Angola or Namibia.