AFCON 2023: Mikel Obi tips Osimhen, Nigeria for glory

Nigeria legend John Obi Mikel believes the Super Eagles are good enough to win the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).

The 36-year-old was part of the last Nigerian side to be crowned continental champions a decade ago when they beat Burkina Faso in the final.

However, the AFCON has since proved elusive to the West African side, who were eliminated at the round of 16 stage during the tournament's last edition.

With the Super Eagles preparing for their latest attempt at glory, having been drawn against hosts Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau in Group A, Mikel believes they have what it takes to win the tournament.

Speaking to CNN, the former Chelsea midfielder was asked which team would win the AFCON and he emphatically answered: “Nigeria!”

Osimhen for player of the tournament

Mikel was also full of praise for Nigeria forward Victor Osimhen and tipped the Napoli star to emerge as the player of the tournament.

He compared the 24-year-old reigning Africa Player of the Year's playing style to Didier Drogba and said the Super Eagles are guaranteed goals due to the prolificacy of Osimhen.

“Like I have said a few times, he looks to me like Didier Drogba, with a bit of similarity here and there. He will score goals, he will give you goals, and he will hold a play. [He is a] strong, young, {and] energetic striker,” Mikel said.

He added: “If I need to pick a player who will probably win the player of the tournament, I will go for Victor Osimhen.”

‘Nigeria blessed with strikers’

The Super Eagles are currently camping in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ahead of the AFCON in the Ivory Coast.

As of the time of filing this report, 19 players have arrived in camp, including captain Ahmed Musa, AC Milan star Samuel Chukwueze, Bayer Leverkusen’s Victor Boniface and Atalanta forward Ademola Lookman.

However, Nigeria will be without the services of Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi, who has been ruled out of the tournament due to a serious injury.

Mikel noted while the Super Eagles are short on quality in defence and the goalkeeping department, their strike force is littered with exceptional talent. In Osimhen, Boniface and Awoniyi.

“When it comes to that department, when it comes to that striking force, right now, I think we are blessed. We have a lot of players there. [Taiwo] Awoniyi is doing well for Nottingham Forest and also for the national team. There’s also [Victor] Boniface for Leverkusen, who’s doing well,” Mikel stated. 

“We’re quite blessed when it comes to the strike force for the national team right now. But we just need to fix little issues here and there, you know the defense and goalkeeping issue. If we’re able to do that, then we’ve got a very good chance.”

Mikel open to future role with Super Eagles

The former Nigeria captain also opened up on his readiness to accept a role with the national team in the future.

Mikel said while he does not see himself becoming a coach, he is open to serving as a mediator between the players and administrators in charge of running the team.

“I don’t think I can handle being a manager, but [I can work] in some capacity. I would love to be involved again with the national team. I want to be someone who will try to fix the problems from the top, even if it means being a mediator between the players and the FA to make sure things are run properly,” he added. 

Jose Peseiro and his charges will begin their AFCON campaign on Sunday, January 14, against Equatorial Guinea, with group games against the Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau to follow.

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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.