• Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

BALLPOINT: IS THE SUPER EAGLES’ FOURTH AFCON TITLE QUEST DEAD BEFORE DAWN?

The Moustached Journalist says;

Owing to recent breakdowns in the Super Eagles’ ability to turn up to the party, most Nigerians typically will cheer the three-time African champions with a measure of pessimism who will be targeting a fourth title at the 34th edition of Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), starting from Saturday, January 13 to Sunday, February 11 across four major cities in Ivory Coast – Abidjan, Yamoussoukro, San Pedro, and Korhogo.

How far they can go in the forthcoming competition is quite not up for debate; Nigeria is drawn up in Group A with hosts Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.

The prestigious trophy of the Africa’s biggest sports event held biennially, Africa Cup of Nations. Photo Credit: Culled from Vanguard News.

The Super Eagles’ final squad for this month’s AFCON tournament was announced on Friday, December 29, 2023 with the likes of Kelechi Nwakali, Gift Orban, Maduka Okoye, Leon Balogun, Adebayo Adeleye, Nathaniel Tella and Cyriel Dessers were notable absentees.

It was initially reported that Nigeria will storm Côte d’Ivoire with 27 players but 25 will represent the country. Speaking on the criteria for the selection of 25-man squad list on Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) TV, José Peseiro listed the qualities met by those who made the call-ups.

“The NFF decided that it will go with 25 and I agreed because it is easy to manage this number. We first came up with the 41 players then the players who made the final list have been with us and they have shown good performance. There are players who showed good performance in their clubs but didn’t do well in the national team.

The initial Super Eagles’ 25-man squad list as announced by José Peseiro before the exemptions for Wilfred Ndidi, Victor Boniface and Sadiq Umar due to injuries. Photo Credit: Culled from @thenff on X.

“Also, there are players who do well for the national team and didn’t do well in their clubs. We looked at current form, if they are playing well and showed good condition. It was not easy to choose the 25 players but it was my responsibility and I hope and pray they play well for us,” the 63-year-old tactician said.

In any case, due in part to a shocking start to the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying series, there is much less belief in José Peseiro’s tactical approaches to games this time in the lead-up to this year’s Africa’s biggest sports event.

However, football fans across the country have reacted to the 25-man squad for 2023 AFCON tournament that was recently unveiled by the Portuguese gaffer with a few notable omissions and widely unexpected inclusions.

Super Eagles Head Coach, José Vitor Peseiro pictured with Kelechi Iheanacho, Calvin Bassey and William Troost-Ekong all feeling heated during one of the team’s closed-door training sessions held at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena, Lagos. Photo Credit: Culled from SportsRation.

This news, for sure, wasn’t welcomed by many who had already cut short their expectations on the team. Following the growing outcry over the squad list which has come under scrutiny, as Nigerians on social media questioned and voiced out concerns on a roster that has three goalkeepers, nine defenders, five midfielders and eight forwards.

Notably, the embattled Francis Uzoho has come under heavy criticism from Nigerians due to his poor performances which was also speculated to be the reason for the inclusion of Chippa United’s Stanley Nwabali, and Olorunleke Ojo, Enyimba FC shotstopper and the only home-based player from the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL), will all compete for the first-choice position between the sticks.

Late Stephen Keshi-led 2013 AFCON-winning team captained by the former Super Eagles defender, Joseph Yobo. Sunday Mba scored the goal in the final against Burkina Faso to win Nigeria’s third AFCON title in South Africa. Photo Credit: Culled from Goal.

The 2013 AFCON winner, Kenneth Omeruo will definitely coordinate the business in the defence line considering his years of expertise alongside assistant captain, William Troost-Ekong, Olaoluwa Aina, Oluwasemilogo Ajayi, Calvin Bassey, Zaidu Sanusi, Chidozie Awaziem, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Bruno Onyemaechi.

Leicester City midfielder, Wilfred Ndidi was replaced by Royal Antwerp’s Alhassan Yusuf after being ruled out for the next three months due to an injury, leaving a void in the starting lineup with Fulham’s Alex Iwobi, Raphael Onyedika, Joe Aribo and Frank Onyeka all in the midfield. However, Nigerians didn’t hesitate to fault this profile of talents, saying it lacked creativity.

The Super Eagles are being prepped by the technical know-how of the team ahead of the business of the day at their training camp. Photo Credit: Culled from Brila.

The experienced leadership of Ahmed Musa leads the retinue of attackers in company of African Player of the Year, Victor Osimhen, Moses Simon, Samuel Chukwueze and Ademola Lookman.

With José Peseiro having distorted by notable withdrawals from the team few days before the kickoff, adding to the fact that Kelechi Iheanacho is not match fit and is yet to fully recover from a muscular problem, but have now extended late call-ups to two other forwards due to the recent events of injuries plaguing the Super Eagles’ camp.

With Sadiq Umar’s AFCON hope cut short after reportedly picking a knock in the 2-0 friendly defeat to the Syli Stars of Guinea on Monday, and will now be on the sidelines for the next three weeks.

At the same time, Victor Boniface is expected to be out for six weeks with groin injury, as both players were replaced with Paul Onuachu and Terem Moffi respectively as one of the frontmen who will be in action for Nigeria in Cote d’Ivoire.

It is evident that the midfield options are thin, even more worrisome with the dropout of Ndidi due to an injury, and the absence of a creative box-to-box player in the middle of the park puts too much burden on the strikers and the wingers to create chances. It could also mean some midfielders would have to play out of position where they would be less effective.

CAF 2023 Africa Player of the Year and Napoli marksman, the in-form Victor Osimhen is expected to continue with his exceeding performances for the Super Eagles in Ivory Coast. Photo Credit: Culled from Score Nigeria.

With the exclusion of outfield home-based players, many Nigerian fans feel the good luck charm that aided the team in 2013 might be off in this year’s Africa’s biennial tournament in Ivory Coast. In comparison, the last time Nigeria won the competition, six home-based players were fielded by the then-Nigerian coach, late Stephen Keshi.

The home-based players proved pivotal as Sunday Mba scored the only goal against a resilient Burkina Faso side in the final that won Nigeria’s third AFCON title in South Africa in 2013, and Geoffrey Oboabana was solid as a rock at the back alongside then-20-year-old Kenneth Omeruo.

Moses Simon, Joe Aribo, Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze seen in a goal celebration. Photo Credit: Culled from Soccernet.

In recent years, Nigerians have been complaining about the goalkeeping section of the Super Eagles and the coach, José Peseiro, has not given any other goalkeepers the chance to prove themselves since he took over.

The poor displays of Uzoho for the Super Eagles have been nightmares, and his addition to the team, with no other recognised goalkeeper set to rival him for the starting berth, has Nigerians worried.

Meanwhile, both Nwabali and Ojo are yet to appear in any tournament with the men’s senior national team, hinting that Uzoho will most likely be Peseiro’s preferred goal choice in Ivory Coast.

With top-notch performances in the qualifying series, the Super Eagles of Nigeria who are targeting a fourth AFCON title, are drawn up in Group A with hosts Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. Photo Credit: Culled from Nigerian Sketch.

However, the former Nigeria International and goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, is set to team up with the delegation of players and officials of the Super Eagles in preparations for the AFCON tournament in Ivory Coast, according to Soccernet.

Reacting to a post about the AFCON preparations of the team on the official Instagram account of the Super Eagles, Enyeama posted a comment saying; “Let’s go, See you in camp. Time for business.”

The three-time African champions loosened up to a 12-0 dubbing of a local Dubai-based team, Al Gharbia FC in a friendly exhibition in their Abu Dhabi training base in United Arab Emirates. Photo Credit: Culled from Vanguard News.

The comment from the 2013 AFCON winner appears to suggest there have been some sort of reunion between him and the team. It also remains to be seen if Enyeama will be a goalkeeping coach in the Super Eagles’ crew.

In their last outing in 2021, they were one of the stronger performers in the Group Stage (dominating and beating eventual runners-up Egypt), but crumbled in the face of stern opposition in the Round of 16 where they were eliminated by Carthage Eagles of Tunisia with a lone-goal defeat.

Syli Stars of Guinea edge past José Peseiro’s men in a two-nil victory in final preparations ahead of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations this weekend in Cote d’Ivoire. Photo Credit: Culled from Daily Post Nigeria.

Nigeria simply are not a balanced side, a fact that, as they would eventually not find it easy in their campaign against stronger opponents in this year’s edition to translate to a fourth AFCON title.

A top-spot finish will be a shock but as runner-up in the group would present a tricky Round of 16 tie. However, should José Peseiro’s men scale through to the quarter-final stage will possibly be a miracle.

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