When Super Eagles coach Jose Peseiro released his 25-man list for the AFCON last week, it elicited a lot of reactions from fans and analysts.
Many believed that the list lacked steel in midfield while a lot of others were not happy Terem Moffi missed the cut.
There was a bit of furore about the exclusion of Israel-based goalkeeper Adeleye Adebayo from the goalkeepers in camp considering he looked set to be named and even started in goal against Sierra Leone in Liberia but Peseiro had other things in mind.
Jordan Torunarigha, Nathan Tella, Jamilu Collins, Kevin Akpoguma, Kelechi Nwakali, and Paul Onuachu were some of the big names left out as Nigeria seek a fourth continental title.
However, despite the scrutiny, the Portuguese coach staunchly defended his selections, emphasizing his ultimate aspiration for Nigeria to clinch the title. He firmly believes the chosen players possess the potential to go the distance.
“Since the moment I decided to sign the contract with the Super Eagles, the objective was to play and win the AFCON. We did well in the qualification and for the tournament, the NFF decided to go with 25 players instead of 27 and I agreed” he said.
“Firstly, I chose some players because they already worked with us. Secondly, I took into consideration the performance of the players in the previous selection because some show good performances for us in the National Team but don't play well for their club and vice versa.
“Thirdly, the current form of the players. It wasn't easy to choose the 25 players because we have a lot of quality all over. Until 10th January, I can change any player from this 25-man list and replace them with the players in the provisional squad because injuries can happen sometimes”.
Nigeria’s goalkeeping crisis reached a crescendo when Maduka Okoye asked to be left out of the team for the World Cup qualifying games against Lesotho and Zimbabwe just weeks after Francis Uzoho dropped a clanger against Mozambique in a friendly in Portugal in October.
It was evident the goalkeeping department needed some fresh hands and it wasn’t a surprise when Peseiro sought out Stanley Nwabali of South African Premier League side Chippa United.
“We have seen Stanley Nwabali's information from the NFF, I also observed him in the videos and games,” Peseiro said when asked about Nwabali’s inclusion in the squad.
“I was there in South Africa, I spoke with him, the coach, and other people. I also watched the training and practice, he showed good quality and performance.
Peseiro also revealed the Eagles' pre-tournament plans as well as pleading Nigerian fans to support the team in Ivory Coast.
Aiming to win
“We will go to Dubai for 5-6 days for camping and we will try to develop our idea,” he said while asking Nigerian fans to be on the side of the team.
” We want to repeat what the Super Eagles did before. It's not easy, our group is not easy. Cote d'Ivoire is number one, they are a good team and are playing at home. Equatorial Guinea made the quarter-finals and did better than Nigeria at the last AFCON.
“It's a hard tournament, a hard job because you need to focus every time and every minute in the matches.
“I ask the people to support us, I know the fans like to put some pressure if the team doesn't get a good result in the first game, we believe we will go on until the final,” Peseiro stated.
The Super Eagles failed to get on the podium at the last AFCON after a 1-0 defeat in the Round of 16 after winning all three group games.
Nigeria will face hosts Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau, and Equatorial Guinea in Group A of the 2023 AFCON.
The tournament runs from January 13, 2024, to February 11, 2024.