Are the Super Eagles back in contention for AFCON 2024 title?

In the space of 10 days, Nigeria have managed to swing perceptions surrounding the national team.

The Super Eagles went into the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2024) as one of the favourites but saw their ratings drop following their stalemate against Equatorial Guinea in their opening group match.

While their performance in that game led to a revision of notes, Jose Peseiro’s side rewrote themselves into the list of challengers when they turned it around against hosts Ivory Coast days later.

Nigeria not only put up a resilient performance but also largely outplayed the Elephants as they recorded an important 1-0 victory. It’s a result that has renewed hope among fans and given the Super Eagles a huge boost for the remainder of the tournament.

Super Eagles AFCON 2024
Photo by Icon Sport

Under Peseiro, the Super Eagles have tended to be unpredictable. When everyone expected them to rout Equatorial Guinea, they fluffed their lines and when everyone expected them to crumble against Ivory Coast, they rose to the occasion.

Super Eagles in pole position in Group A

As the Super Eagles prepare to take on Guinea-Bissau in their final Group A game, though, there will be no excuse this time. Nigeria have the chance to top the group if they win and they cannot afford to bottle it.

In truth, with four points, the Super Eagles may just have done enough already to book their place in the knockout stage, but finishing as group winners helps them avoid a tough draw in round 16.

That is not to say Guinea-Bissau can be underrated. On the contrary, despite losing each of their first two games at AFCON 2024 and conceding six goals, the Djurtus know how to spoil a party.

The mere fact that they beat Nigeria in Abuja in the AFCON qualifiers last year, and also held Burkina Faso to a 1-1 draw away from home in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, is enough evidence that Guinea-Bissau would relish an upset.

But the onus lies with Nigeria to affirm their status as one of the tournament favourites. A convincing win against the Djurtus would be a message to their rivals, which is what they should be aiming at.

Are Super Eagles back in contention for AFCON 2024?

No matter how one looks are it, Nigeria’s victory over Ivory Coast was a statement win. The Supper Eagles came up against another big team – one of the favourites, in fact – and stood tall.

The question now is whether the Super Eagles are back in contention for the AFCON title. Their performance against the Elephants might suggest so but it's premature to say, especially for a team that has often switched off when it matters most.

Super Eagles AFCON 2024
Photo by Icon Sport

During the last AFCON in Cameroon, Nigeria made light work of the group stage, finishing with nine points after beating Egypt, Sudan and Guinea-Bissau. However, when they finally gained everyone’s attention, they fell short in the round of 16 against Tunisia.

It’s the tendency to self-destruct that makes the Super Eagles vulnerable and unreliable. They could have everything going their way in one moment and completely switch off in the next.

“I don’t like dwelling too much on a win in an ongoing tournament. If it is the final match then fine but of course I like to win. I like my players to feel that happiness because a win comes with more confidence and belief in the process and the players also believe more in themselves,” Peseiro said ahead of the game against Guinea-Bissau.

“But at the same time, when you win. some points are dodged when you relax and feel you can play the same way in the next game. Sometimes you can lose the focus and spirit, (and) can lose the demanded commitment.

“The players know in football, everything can change fast. For that, I spoke with my players, if we have the best of tactics and we don’t put our minds and play with solidarity, it can’t be easy. Yes, the confidence has increased but we need to keep the focus.”

The bottom line, though, is that Nigeria have proven, at least by how they contained Ivory Coast, that they can go toe-to-toe with the best on the continent.

What is left now is the consistency and concentration needed to go all the way and it remains to be seen whether the Super Eagles can produce it as the tournament enters its business end.

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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.