If there’s one thing that has come to be synonymous with Nigeria ahead of major tournaments, it is the fact that they usually hit snags in their preparations.
While the Super Eagles’ pre-tournament camping has looked seamless ahead of Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2023) in the Ivory Coast, the latest beast to rear its head is the injuries to key players.
Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi was the first to withdraw from the squad following a muscle problem and was immediately replaced by Yusuf Alhassan.
In the days that have followed, Nigeria’s striking department has been the hardest hit by injuries.
Super Eagles attack hit by injuries
Bayer Leverkusen star Victor Boniface and Real Sociedad’s Umar Sadiq have both been ruled out of the AFCON, with Terem Moffi and Paul Onuachu taking their places.
Kelechi Iheanacho is also racing against time to be fit for the tournament.
On Saturday, 13 January , Nigeria boss Jose Peseiro confirmed the Leicester City forward had arrived in camp but it is unlikely that he will feature in the opening game against Equatorial Guinea, which is scheduled for 24 hours later.
“He (Iheanacho) arrived this morning by 4 a.m. The information from the technical and medical staff is that he has completely recovered,” Peseiro said at a pre-match conference.
“For the Boniface injury you know, Moffi will arrive tomorrow (Sunday) at 8 p.m., and Sadiq’s injury also, Onuachu arrived this morning at 4 a.m. Not good for them but because they love this competition, they are here.”
So, with Boniface, Sadiq and Iheanacho unavailable, which player can step up as Victor Osimhen’s partner in crime?
Terem Moffi’s late inclusion in the Nigeria squad for AFCON 2023 was received warmly by supporters, many of whom have been rooting for him due to his form at club level.
The 24-year-old is one of Nigeria’s exciting players in Europe at the moment, having contributed six goals and two assists for OGC Nice in Ligue 1.
Moffi’s profile makes him a perfect candidate to partner Osimhen in attack. The Napoli striker can feed off his runs and link-up play. Moffi has never looked like a player who’s overawed by any occasion and he’ll certainly relish grabbing the opportunity with both hands if he gets to play alongside Osimhen.
Paul Onuachu’s international career hasn’t been as eventful as that of his club has been. A player who has scored plenty goals wherever he’s played, it’s a mystery that he’s been capped less than 20 times by the Super Eagles.
However, the Southampton striker, who’s currently on loan at Trabzonspor, has the chance to finally make his mark in the Ivory Coast. With 12 goal contributions (nine goals and three assists) from 15 matches in the Turkish topflight, it won’t be out of place to pair him with Osimhen in Nigeria’s attack.
It’s unlikely that Peseiro will opt for a 4-2-2 formation with two strikers up top, but Onuachu could do a job in such a setup, provided there is balance in the midfield.
Lookman and Chukwueze
Osimhen’s 10 goals made him Nigeria’s top scorer in qualifying for the AFCON, but he will need the supporting cast to also rise to the occasion if the Super Eagles are going to go far in the Ivory Coast.
Peseiro tends to lean towards having pacey wingers, which means Ademola Lookman and Samuel Chukwueze could be partnering with Osimhen as wingers.
Both players have a lot to prove, having often blown hot and cold in the Nigeria shirt.
But they’re also the Super Eagles’ best wingers at the moment and they should be able to step up to take some of the goal-scoring burden off Osimhen.