Very soon, the strongest football players of Africa will leave their clubs for almost a month and unite in the national teams to compete in the African Cup of Nations. In this material, we will thoroughly analyze the Nigeria national team and discuss their chances in the tournament.
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Team’s Preparation for the Tournament
Three-time tournament champions, the Nigeria national team, aim to claim the trophy for the first time since 2013. Pleasant memories come to mind from their past encounters with the tournament hosts and teams in the group stage: eleven years ago, they faced Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals, securing a 2-1 victory in Rustenburg, South Africa, and advancing to the next stage. In the final, Nigerians, supported by 85,000 fans, triumphed over Burkina Faso with a goal from the local hero Mba (1-0). This player, with the extraordinary name Sunday, never played for a big European club but became a legend in his homeland.
Recent years have not been easy for the Nigeria national team. After winning the gold medals in 2013, this 230-million nation failed to qualify for the next two African Cup of Nations tournaments. Although they secured third place in the 2019 tournament, the most significant disappointment came from the unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the first miss since 2006.
In the previous African Cup of Nations, Nigeria looked very convincing in the group stage, securing three victories against strong teams such as Egypt, Sudan, and Guinea-Bissau. However, their further journey in the tournament ended in the round of 16, where the promising team failed to score against Tunisia and conceded the only goal early in the second half. This failure cost them dearly, denying them the opportunity to reach the quarterfinals.
Coaching Staff and Player Selection
Leading Nigeria in the hunt for new African Cup of Nations trophies in Ivory Coast is Jose Pezeira. The Portuguese coach joined the national team in 2022, having previously worked with numerous European clubs, from Romania’s Rapid to Portugal’s Sporting. His last job was with the Venezuela national team.
The biggest concern for the Nigeria national team, which is quite common among African teams, may be the lack of a high-quality goalkeeper. For the average fan, names like Uzoho, Nwabili, and Odjo may not mean much, but they are responsible for the calm and reliability in the team’s goal. Among defenders, two players from the Premier League stand out: Aina from Nottingham Forest and Basi from Fulham. Pereira also prefers Semi Ajayi, who previously played for Arsenal and now represents West Bromwich.
A player known for his performances in the Champions League is Sanusi from Porto. Troost-Ekong previously played in the Premier League and now defends the colors of Greek club PAOK.
In the midfield, Pereira can rely on players like Alex Iwobi from Fulham, Wilfred Ndidi from Leicester, Joe Aribo from Southampton, Frank Onyeka from Brentford, and Rafael Oniedika from Brugge. The attacking line looks very powerful: Victor Osimhen from Napoli is one of the best forwards in Serie A, and Victor Boniface from Bayer demonstrates excellent performances in the Bundesliga and Europa League.
Also, do not forget about Iheanacho from Leicester and Chukwueze from Milan. The most experienced player in the team, with over 100 appearances for the national team, is Ahmed Musa. However, it can be assumed that Pereira included him in the squad as a talisman, as the 31-year-old striker played only two matches for the Turkish Sivasspor this season.
What to Expect from the Team
Nigeria is traditionally considered one of the main contenders for victory in the African Cup of Nations. It’s hard to imagine that Pereira’s team will not pass the group stage. The further progress will depend on whether the star players in the attacking line can find understanding and consistently produce results against serious opponents.
Our prediction: at least reaching the quarterfinals.