When the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2024) started, Nigeria were only the sixth-likeliest team to win it — according to Opta's supercomputer, that is.
Two rounds and four games later, the Super Eagles are now outright favourites for the title.
According to a prediction by Opta’s supercomputer, Nigeria are now the favourite to win their fourth continental title, with a chance of 28.8%.
That boost, though, has had more to do with the underwhelming displays of the five teams originally ahead of them in the stakes than with Nigeria's own progress.
Hosts Ivory Coast (2nd) are still in the competition, but a poor set of group-stage results means they're no longer as highly rated and are feeling their way back.
The Super Eagles were the first team to beat the Elephants at this tournament, and Jose Peseiro's team have kept a streak of victories going since that hard-fought triumph in Abidjan, the latest of which eliminated neighbours Cameroon.
Prior to that fixture, Nigeria hadn't shown too much of the attacking might that suggested they'd be firing on all cylinders right from the start of the tournament, and while they only scored twice against the Indomitable Lions — Atalanta winger Ademola Lookman getting both goals — that was still potent enough to spread belief among their countrymen about what the team is capable of.
What is the Super Eagles' strength?
In defence, though, is where Nigeria's most outstanding strengths — fairly surprisingly — have emerged, with William Troost-Ekong marshalling a mean back-line with aplomb and goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali emerging as a revelation in goal.
That sturdiness explains Nigeria not conceding a goal since Equatorial Guinea put one past them in their first group game, and is truly the biggest reason for confidence going forward.
Nigeria are, indeed, the highest-ranked team left (42nd in the world), but they'd know that being top dogs at this AFCON comes with no perks at all, only a giant target on the back that makes a team susceptible to an upset.
A tight-rope, rather than a red carpet, is what the Super Eagles would have to walk if they're to arrive at the top of the podium on February 11 to claim that elusive fourth star.
First up, Angola.
Why Super Eagles should not underestimate Angola
Angola, like Nigeria, have not failed to win a game since their opener, when they held Algeria to a draw.
Most importantly, though, the Sable Antelopes are notoriously difficult to beat. Pedro Goncalves’ team hasn't lost a competitive game since a narrow March 2023 defeat away to Ghana, and Peseiro would have to come up with a very effective strategy to outwit his fellow Portuguese trainer.
The absence of first-choice goalkeeper Neblu — serving a suspension after being sent off last time out — may leave Angola a little vulnerable at the back, but there should be enough ammunition upfront to pose a very real threat to an opponent 75 placed higher on the FIFA ranking, potentially adding the Super Eagles to a growing list of huge scalps claimed by AFCON 2024.
The most potent of those weapons is Gelson Dala, the Al-Wakrah forward who is the leading goalscorer — on four goals, including two of the three against Namibia in the previous round — and the most creative outlet in this Angola team, but Nigeria would also have reason to be wary of the menacing Mabululu (three goals) and skipper Fredy (three assists, joint-top in the tournament).
The combined effect of the wealth of attacking options available to Goncalves is why no side has scored more goals than Angola.
It could prove the most serious threat Nigeria's rear guard has yet to face at this competition, and the ability of Troost-Ekong and Co to pass that test would take the Super Eagles one step closer to their ultimate destination.