Nigeria vs Cameroon: Should Super Eagles worry about Osimhen’s form?

There’s a glaring disparity between Victor Osimhen’s output and the general performance of Nigeria at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2024) in the Ivory Coast.

While the Super Eagles have been very impressive in the group phase, garnering seven out of a possible nine points, their star striker has not really been at his best.

Jose Peseiro’s side created more big chances (13) than any other team in the tournament so far, but only managed three goals in the group stages, only one of which came of Osimhen’s boots. That is a woeful return, considering the number of chances Nigeria created.

Against Equatorial Guinea, the Super Eagles had several opportunities to kill the game but fluffed their line and consequently ended up drawing 1-1 with the Nzalang Nacional.

The story was no different against hosts Ivory Coast in the second game, where Nigeria needed a second-half penalty from William Troost-Ekong to win the game, while they were also blunt in their victory against Guinea-Bissau, which came via an own goal.

What’s wrong with Osimhen?

A big part of the reason why Nigeria have scored just one goal from open play in the AFCON is that Osimhen is yet to come to the party.

The Napoli striker is about the only player who is un-droppable in the national team, but he has so far not lived up to expectations. The frustrating part is that he’s usually at the right place at the right time, and gets into excellent positions, but just cannot seem to find the back of the net.

By matchday two, Nigeria had missed seven big chances, more than any other team in the AFCON, with Osimhen being the biggest culprit, having squandered three of them.

The Super Eagles have not yet borne the brunt of his big misses but they’ll need him to be at his best as they enter the round of 16, where Cameroon await on Saturday, January 27.

For a player who scored so many goals for Napoli last season to lead them to the Serie A title and already has eight goals in 18 matches this season, this was supposed to be the moment he stepped up for his country too.

However, it hasn’t gone according to plan, and should the 25-year-old continue to struggle in front of goal, it could cost Nigeria in the knockout stages.

Is transfer speculation behind Osimhen’s poor form?

Osimhen stated before the AFCON that he was fully focused on helping Nigeria to win its fourth continental crown. However, not even his own words have stopped the media from bombarding him with transfer speculations.

Just three days before the Super Eagles’ opening group game against Equatorial Guinea, Osimhen was in the news when he hit out at Mamuka Jugeli, the agent of his Napoli teammate Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, for suggesting he wasn’t committed to the Italian club and would leave in the summer if a Saudi club tabled a big offer.

Earlier this week, he once again made the headlines for speaking about his future, telling CBS: “I already had my plan, I already know the next step I want to take. For now I want to finish the season strong, relax with my daughter, think about my life and then come out with the decision I have already made.”

While Osimhen’s commitment to Nigeria cannot be questioned, it is possible that he could be getting distracted by the transfer talks surrounding him. The fact that he has constantly had to talk about his club future while in the middle of a tournament with his national team smacks of a man whose attention may be divided.

As the reigning CAF Footballer of the Year, Osimhen came into the AFCON as Nigeria’s talisman but he hasn’t lived up to that tag yet. Rather, his tournament so far has been riddled with missed chances and that should be a source of worry for Peseiro as the Super Eagles prepare to take on Cameroon in the last 16.

It’s not every day that elite European clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid go to war for an African footballer. Osimhen finds himself in such a transfer tug-of-war, but could all these speculations be responsible for his poor form at the AFCON? That is certainly not far-fetched.  

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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.