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Nigerians rely on Osimhen for AFCON

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By Mercy Kelani

Super Eagles embark on their AFCON journey as Boniface withdraws due to injury.

With the Cup of Nations underway, the Nigerian football team places its utmost confidence and expectations on Victor Osimhen, the renowned African footballer of the year. However, a greater burden now falls upon his shoulders as his fellow goal-scorer, Victor Boniface, has been forced to withdraw from the competition due to injury. On January 14, 2024, the Super Eagles embark on their AFCON journey in Ivory Coast, ready to lock horns with Equatorial Guinea. Subsequently, they will blaze through challenges by confronting both the hosts and underdogs of Group A, namely Guinea-Bissau. Nigeria is aiming to secure their fourth Cup of Nations victory, a triumph that would put them on par with their rivals Ghana. It is their incredibly potent offensive force that has elevated their status as genuine frontrunners in the competition.

At the age of 25, Osimhen clinched the prestigious African Player of the Year accolade after showcasing his outstanding skills during Napoli’s remarkable journey to secure the Serie A championship. In the last season, he displayed his exceptional skills by securing a remarkable 26 goals for his club, propelling him to the status of one of the most sought-after forwards in global football. However, during this current campaign, he has encountered difficulties as his goal tally has diminished significantly, with him only managing to find the net eight times. Osimhen managed to find the net on 10 occasions during AFCON qualifying round, albeit the majority of his goals, amounting to seven, were against the lesser-known team of Sao Tome and Principe.

Terem Moffi has now claimed Boniface’s position in the team.

Having had minimal participation in Nigeria’s triumphant third-place finish at the 2019 AFCON and being forced to sit out the previous edition due to a facial injury and contracting Covid, this tournament holds tremendous significance for him. In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, he expressed his desire to secure victory in the AFCON tournament alongside his compatriots and create a lasting impact of his own. As he aspires to join the ranks of Nigeria’s legendary footballers, who have all achieved remarkable feats, winning the prestigious title is an essential achievement. The Super Eagles, driven by this shared ambition, are fervently working towards reclaiming the continental championship for the first time since 2013. Having scored an impressive 16 goals for Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen in the initial months of the season, the 23-year-old Boniface was eagerly looking forward to the AFCON and the possibility of becoming his partner.

The striker, who first represented his country at the international level just a few months ago, will unfortunately be absent from the Ivory Coast squad due to a troubling injury in his groin area. Boniface, in his December interview with media outlets including AFP, emphasized that the dream of Nigerian players is twofold: first, to proudly wear their national colours, and second, to emerge victorious and bring home a coveted trophy for their beloved nation. A player, who has endured the pain of two severe knee ligament injuries in his career, is dealt a mighty setback when they are forced to withdraw just moments before the start of the championships. Terem Moffi has now claimed his position in the team, replacing him. The omission of the robust Nice forward from the squad initially highlights the sheer strength of Nigeria’s attacking prowess.

Football coach Jose Peseiro has a trove of talented players at his disposal.

In December, Jay-Jay Okocha, the legendary football player from the Super Eagles, shared with media, including AFP, that in Nigeria, every child aspires to become a proficient goal scorer and yearns for recognition. Furthermore, the supporters may play a significant role in this matter—defenders committing an own goal are rarely pardoned, whereas strikers who fail to seize an opportunity often receive absolution. Football coach José Peseiro has a trove of talented players at his disposal. Among them are Samuel Chukwueze from AC Milan, Moses Simon from Nantes, and the impressive Ademola Lookman, who is currently making waves at Atalanta in Italy.

It is anticipated that Kelechi Iheanacho from Leicester City will recover and be in good health, however, Taiwo Awoniyi, a forward for Nottingham Forest, has already been declared unfit. During Nigeria’s last warm-up friendly against Guinea, Umar Sadiq, the striker from Real Sociedad, sustained an injury that resulted in a surprising selection of the towering forward Paul Onuachu, currently playing for Trabzonspor. Peseiro is in urgent need of Osimhen to score goals as his team seems to lack the required skill in other areas, especially since they have also lost Leicester midfielder Wilfred Ndidi. Peseiro, the head coach of the African national team, revealed to O Jogo, a Portuguese daily, that their qualification was achieved by outscoring every other team with an impressive 22 goals.

Peseiro is fully aware of the necessary caution that must be exercised.

This accomplishment is attributed through their aggressive and attacking style of football, distinguishing them as one of the most prominent teams in Africa. When he committed to Nigeria, his ultimate goal was to secure victory in the AFCON. The decision was driven by his profound familiarity with the exceptional abilities possessed by the players, the illustrious history of the team, and above all, the remarkable potential they possess to become champions with the available resources at hand. However, Peseiro is fully aware of the necessary caution that must be exercised towards Nigeria’s counterparts in the group stage, particularly the Guinea-Bissau team that triumphed over them with a 1-0 victory during the qualifying match held in Abuja. Okocha cautioned that the realm of African football has witnessed a closure of the divide, leaving no room for underdogs to emerge.


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