AFCON 2023: What’s your assessment of the Super Eagles’ performances so far?

The Super Eagles of Nigeria drew 1-1 with Equatorial Guinea in their opening Group A match at the on-going Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) and beat the Elephants of Cote D’Ivoir the host country national team in their second group match. PAUL OKAH speaks with a cross-section of Nigerians on the performances of the Super Eagles so far.        

Nigeria not doing well

Nigeria is not doing well at the on-going AFCON in Cote D’Ivoire as a result of many factors. The AFCON 2023 has 68 officials, but none is Nigerian. The last time a Nigerian officiated as central referee in AFCON was in 2006. For 18 blank years of nine AFCON tournaments, no Nigerian referee was considered fit and qualified. No Nigerian referee ever made it to the World Cup as an official. At the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, six African referees featured, apart from 10 other assistant officials and two camera officials. None was a Nigerian. You may ask of the correlation between this and the performance of Nigeria at international tournaments. There are a lot. Every referee is the product of the local football league of a country. 

The production of good quality referees recognised at the international recognition is a testament to the quality of a local league, just as the absence also testifies to a poor quality. Most of the time, countries with poor quality local leagues never make a good showing at international tournaments. Such countries rely heavily on foreign players who never stay together to blend into a fine team. Moreover, their allegiance is more to their clubs that pay them well. So, you may possibly be dreaming to expect wonders from the Nigerian Super Eagles team at the AFCON 2023 right now. People that don’t manage themselves well will never do well in competitions. Nigeria is a most poorly managed society and its football is no exception. It will take a long time to have a national football team that Nigerians can rely on for good results.

….Ikeroyal Emewu, writer

Nigeria’s midfield, attack lacking quality

Nigeria has the best rated players in this year’s AFCON 2023. However, the players are performing poorly due to a good number of reasons. The Super Eagles’ coach called up many strikers and offensive players, which are very good. Yes, Chukweze was benched and no team in Africa ought to have  benched him. The simple reason is because many strikers were called up. If the defence of the opposite team is great, the numerous strikers will only get frustrated as seen against Equatorial Guinea. Yes, quality is still lacking in the Super Eagles defence and midfield, making opponents feel confident each time they discover that.

Yes, it’s a fact because Equatorial Guinea never knew they could strike the iron and once they discovered that, the iron was struck and they were even leading the game, not just with goals, but with ball possession. Note that Ndidi and others are injured. If not, the coach would have called them. This is purely wrong because these players are aging and the management of the Super Eagles still depends on those names, rather than youngsters.

So, the Super Eagles should work harder in both defence and midfield. If not, they will leave Ivory Coast in days. When I predicted the Nigeria vs Equatorial Guinea match would end 1-1, many thought it was a joke. Cameroon played Guinea with players you have never seen. Maybe one or 2 old faces were still there, but trust me the build-up will surprise this AFCON. I took my time to review the team and this is what I have to say.

…Yakubu Bello, teacher

No team yet

The Super Eagles cannot win the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations title in Cote D’Ivoire because of the bad performances so far. We have good players in camp, but we don’t have a team. We are still building a team because we don’t have a team that can win the AFCON. I don’t see the present Eagles winning this AFCON; it’s not possible. We are not ready; we don’t have what it takes. The players need Musa and Omeruo to tell them how Nigeria conquered Africa in 2013. Look at the discipline, the sacrifices, and how players fought and tasked themselves when everyone had given up. Like I said, Nigeria doesn’t have a team yet. All we have is a bunch of professional players who are yet to understand what it means to put on the Nigerian jersey.  Their performance is below average.

If a team plays well, let us say it, but for the Super Eagles to miss such goals in those clear opportunities speaks of lack of seriousness of the players. In a competition like this, a team needs to make good points with teams like Equatorial Guinea. What are we going to be saying when facing Ivory Coast with home advantage? As it is now, other teams can defeat Nigeria unless there is a change of attitude of our players. They must stop gambling with opportunities and show more confidence in the 18-yard box and victory will be assured.

…Rosemary Edidiong, student

Super Eagles will do better

I always say this, during the last AFCON in Cameroon, Nigeria topped their group with nine points, but was knocked out in the second stage. Senegal managed to go through the group stages with five points or four, but ended up lifting the cup. The beginning of the journey doesn’t matter. This is AFCON. The Senegalese coach is introducing young, blood thirsty and talented players and mixing them up with the few old. It is like combining an old wine with a new one. This tells you how a good country prepares for its football future.

The little chance given to Alhassan Yusuf will prove my point. We are doing well as a team and country. We have the best players in the tournament. We just need to fast track a working midfield and improve our delivery. We will do better. Definitely, the Super Eagles of Nigeria will make Nigerians proud in this tournament.  If there’s one thing we missed in the Equatorial Guinea game, it’s the targeted crossings.

Our wingers seldom crossed the ball into the box, despite knowing Osimhen’s aerial abilities. This is where Ahmed Musa comes into play. Give him the ball and he’ll deliver those Beckham-like dangerous crosses, putting pressure on opposition center-backs, and giving Osimhen something to leverage on.

When I watched Egypt and Mozambique, I learnt that football is funny. Any team can win unexpectedly. Look at the number of chances Cape Verde missed against Ghana. We are better than Ghana. Nevertheless, we really need to include home-based players in the squad. Sikiru Alimi will not lose the chances Osimhen lost. I am sure the king of assists in Remo Stars will perform better than Moses Simon. I am sure we have learnt another lesson. I hope the Super Eagles will fly again.

…Peter Adegoke, analyst

 Need for improvement

Nigeria has individual players, but no team. It’s true that football is evolving, but playing a draw against Equatorial Guinea is very disappointing. If they’re not very careful, they may not go very far in the competition. In the first match, Sanusi squandered a good chance to put Nigeria ahead early in the first half, just before Salvador fired Equatorial Guinea in front following a witty combination.

However, Osimhen replied with a close range header just moments later as the first half ended 1-1. In the second half, Nigeria mounted more and more pressure but Equatorial Guinea led by some good goalkeeping from Jesus Owono kept the Super Eagles at bay. Sanusi wasted one more good opportunity, and Osimhen later had a golden one-on-one chance to give Nigeria all the three points, but he surprisingly dragged his shot wide. It proved to be a frustrating afternoon for Nigeria.

The players need to work on their finishing. The likes of Victor Osimhen could do better in future matches. Osimhen is supposed to score three goals in that match. It is unfortunate the Super Eagles have made themselves the underdogs in Group A. They will play with anxiety and pressure now. There was a lack of man-marking in the midfield, which created loopholes and hence Guinea’s first goal.

Equatorial Guinea had a high sense of defence; hence their Man of the Match goalkeeper stepped up his game.

…Jacinta Nnamdi, entrepreneur