Major talking points from Nigeria’s 25-man squad for 2023 AFCON

Nigeria are the latest team to release their final 25-man squad for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in the Ivory Coast.

On Friday, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) announced the squad that will be representing the country as they seek a fourth continental crown. The West Africans are paired in the same group with hosts Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.

Super Eagles boss Jose Peseiro had some tough calls to make but ultimately settled on a squad of three goalkeepers, nine defenders, five midfielders and eight forwards.

Nigeria’s AFCON squad is led by captain Ahmed Musa despite the 31-year-old’s lack of game time this season at his club, while South Africa-based goalkeeper Stanley Nwabili is also included.

Below are some of the major talking points from Nigeria’s AFCON squad:

Ahmed Musa’s controversial inclusion

Ahmed Musa has been around forever and has been the captain of Nigeria’s national team for some time now. However, his merit in the Super Eagles has waned in recent years.

This is due to his relative lack of activity at club level, which has created yet another controversy following his inclusion in Nigeria’s final squad for the 2023 AFCON.

The 31-year-old is said to be a respected figure within the team and Peseiro counts on his leadership, but the purely sporting arguments aren’t in his favour, especially with the team stacked with better options upfront.

No place for Terem Moffi and Nathan Tella

While Nigeria’s frontline is its biggest strength, the omissions of Terem Moffi and Nathan Tella have become a major talking point following the announcement of the squad.

Moffi is one of the country’s highly-rated prospects in Europe at the moment, with the 24-year-old impressively netting six goals and providing two assists for OGC Nice in Ligue 1 this season.

Tella has equally had a decent campaign for Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, where he has found the back of the net three times and provided two assists this season.

Considering the array of stars and the quality of Nigeria’s attack, the exclusion of the aforementioned duo shouldn’t have been a problem. However, it has become controversial due to the contentious inclusion of the likes of Musa and Umar Sadiq, who comparatively has scored just two goals this season.

Possible lack of balance

Another major talking point is the possible lack of balance in the Super Eagles team after Poseiro decided to name just five midfielders in the squad.

This means while Nigeria have enough cover in defence and in attack, they’re short in the middle of the park. As it stands, Wilfred Ndidi is the only natural defensive midfielder in the side, while Alex Iwobi and Joe Aribo are best suited further up the pitch.

Kelechi Iheanacho celebrates goal against Zimbabwe with Moses Simon
Photo by Icon Sport

In the past, Nigeria have gone into tournaments with largely unbalanced squads and although it’s premature to say they’re heading towards the same direction in Ivory Coast, an injury or two to their already understaffed midfield options could leave Poseiro scratching his head.

Peseiro’s decision to select 25 players instead of the maximum 27

It’s been less than 24 hours since Jose Peseiro announced Nigeria’s final squad for the AFCON, but the Portuguese has been taking flak from all angles due to some of his choices.

Key amongst them is his decision to select only 25 players for the tournament when he could’ve gone with the maximum 27 players allowed by CAF.

It’s a gamble that could pay off, considering that Nigeria are banking their hopes on their superior attack but it could also backfire badly.

With five substitutions allowed per match, many coaches would be aiming to grab every available chance to have more options and different profiles of players on their benches for tactical switches and in-game management. Peseiro, though, has passed up that opportunity and he could rue that decision.

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Emmanuel Ayamga

Emmanuel Ayamga is an African sports writer, with bylines on DW, Al Jazeera, World Soccer Magazine and These Football Times.