Onyedika: Reactions to wonder brace prove Peseiro threw away AFCON final

On Sunday, X (formerly Twitter) awash with praises for Super Eagles midfielder Raphael Onyedika following his brace for Club Brugge against Anderlecht in the Belgian Championship Round.

As the fans heaped praises on the 22-year-old, they also questioned the tactical nous and competence of former Super Eagles manager Jose Peseiro for not taking advantage of Onyedika’s immense talent at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2024).

Onyedika was named in Peseiro’s final squad for the tournament, holding the distinction of being the youngest player in Nigeria’s squad.

However, his involvement for Nigeria was minimal, with his appearance limited to a late substitute role during the 1-0 victory over Guinea-Bissau in the group stage.

As netizens marvelled at Onyedika's talent, it's impossible to overlook the contrast between his electrifying display for Club Brugge and his limited involvement in the AFCON tournament.

How Peseiro’s refusal to play Onyedika cost Super Eagles at AFCON

The reactions to Onyedika's brace serve as a stark reminder of Peseiro's questionable tactics and team selection. With the Nigerian side striving for glory in Ivory Coast, the absence of Onyedika's dynamism undoubtedly left fans and pundits perplexed.

In hindsight, it seems evident that Peseiro's reluctance to entrust Onyedika with significant playing time was a strategic blunder that cost Nigeria their fourth AFCON title.

His ability to turn the tide of a match with his sheer skill and determination should have been a compelling argument for more minutes on the field during the AFCON final.

Yet, Peseiro's reluctance to deviate from his established lineup ultimately proved detrimental to Nigeria's chances of lifting the trophy.

In Onyedika’s stead, the Portuguese trainer’s decision to deploy Iwobi as a deep midfielder instead of utilising his creativity further exacerbated Nigeria's struggles.

By robbing the team of Iwobi's playmaking abilities higher up the pitch, Nigeria lacked the necessary creativity and offensive impetus to break down their opponents effectively.

This became apparent after the Super Eagles' loss to Ivory Coast in the final, subjecting the Fulham man to cyberbullying.

The Nigerian football community's collective sigh of relief at the departure of Peseiro speaks volumes about the impact of tactical decisions on the national team's performance.

Note to next Super Eagles manager

As the search for the next manager of the Super Eagles intensifies, one key factor must remain at the forefront of the hiring process: maximising the potential of Nigeria’s rising stars, such as Onyedika.

The next Super Eagles manager must prioritise the integration of Onyedika into the team's tactical framework, providing him with the platform to flourish on the international stage.

Touted as the next big thing to happen to Nigerian football, he can comfortably and reliably play as a centre-back, defensive midfielder and as a central midfielder.

Regardless of the role assigned to him on the pitch, Onyedika's versatility offers endless possibilities for creative play and goal-scoring opportunities.

Fostering a conducive environment for Onyedika's development is crucial. This entails not only tactical instruction on the field but also off-field support and mentorship to nurture his talent and instil confidence.

Building a cohesive team dynamic that maximises Onyedika's strengths while mitigating weaknesses will be essential for the Super Eagles' success under the new manager.

The new manager must prioritise continuity and consistency in team selection and tactics. This stability will allow Onyedika to build rapport with his teammates, develop understanding and chemistry on the pitch, and ultimately unleash his full potential.

With the right guidance and support, it would be a travesty beyond compare if Onyedika does not become the linchpin of the Super Eagles in the years to come.

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Godfred Budu

Godfred Budu, a Ghanaian sports journalist, brings a dynamic perspective to the field with over a decade of experience. Having contributed to esteemed platforms such as Kickgh.com and Inkandkicks.com. Godfred is recognised for his insightful commentary and in-depth analysis of African football.
His passion for storytelling and commitment to accuracy have established him as a trusted authority in sports journalism in Ghana, captivating audiences with his engaging narratives and unparalleled expertise.
Godfred holds a degree in Integrated Development Studies (Social and Development Administration option) from the University for Development Studies, Ghana.