Troost-Ekong’s Super Eagles resurgence: From sidelines to spotlight in Nigeria’s AFCON quest

William Troost-Ekong's stride through the mixed zone at the Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Abidjan carried with it a triumphant aura, his broad smile signalling a moment of personal and team victory.

The PAOK Salonika defender had just executed a pivotal penalty, propelling Nigeria to a 1-0 win against Ivory Coast, rekindling the Super Eagles' campaign in a dazzling fashion.

This scenario marked a striking déjà vu for Troost-Ekong, who, preceding the tournament, lingered in the shadows of international football.

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Photo by Icon Sport

He wasn't the forefront choice in Jose Peseiro‘s considerations, especially after being snubbed following Nigeria's 4-0 loss to Portugal in Lisbon during a friendly in November 2022.

Subsequently, Peseiro had entrusted Semi Ajayi and Calvin Bassey as his preferred centre-back duo during the World Cup qualifiers and other games after that.

Troost-Ekong the Super Eagles' silver lining

However, fate took a turn for Troost-Ekong as the Super Eagles' defensive vulnerabilities in the Nations Cup and World Cup qualifiers became glaring.

Defeats to Guinea-Bissau in Abuja and defensive frailties against Sierra Leone underscored the urgent need for a change in Nigeria's defensive lineup.

Interestingly, Ekong found a resurgence at his new Greek club, PAOK Thessaloniki, earning a regular starting spot and delivering standout performances in the Europa Conference League.

Troost-Ekong back in the Super Eagles fold

Peseiro, observing Troost-Ekong's renaissance, extended a recall to the Super Eagles' provisional squad, eventually securing a place in the final selection. Nigeria, aiming to clinch another African title, commenced the journey, last conquered in South Africa in 2013.

Despite the 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea in the opening game, Ekong showcased a return to form, exhibiting impeccable positioning and providing on-field leadership.

The subsequent clash against Ivory Coast emphasised Troost-Ekong's defensive mastery, effectively thwarting Ivorian attacks and concluding the match with a clinically taken penalty.

An unfortunate injury sidelined him for the last group game against Guinea-Bissau, but Troost-Ekong staged a triumphant return in the Round of 16 encounter against Cameroon.

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Photo by Icon Sport

This match witnessed Troost-Ekong's stellar performance in a Nigeria shirt—excelling in tackles, closely marking Cameroon striker Magri, and orchestrating defensive solidarity.

As the Super Eagles prepare to face Angola in the quarter-finals, Ekong braces for yet another stern test.

Angola, with seven goals in the tournament, aim to disrupt Nigeria, now perceived as favourites following the early exits of the top-five ranked African teams.

Can Troost Ekong lead Nigeria to AFCON 2024 glory?

Assuming the captaincy role in place of Ahmed Musa, Troost-Ekong may harbour dreams of lifting the title on February 11, signifying a remarkable turnaround for the seasoned defender.

However, standing in the way is the formidable Palancas Negras.

Regardless, in this defining moment, Troost- Ekong epitomises the saying, “the older the wine, the better it tastes.”

His resurgence is not just a personal triumph but a key narrative shaping Nigeria's quest for glory in the African Cup of Nations.

Troost-Ekong’s Super Eagles resurgence: From sidelines to spotlight in Nigeria’s AFCON quest
Andrew Randa

Andrew Randa is a seasoned Africa sports journalist, and a former Media Officer for Nigeria's U-20 national team. He is widely acknowledged as an authority on the NPFL and African football, Randa is esteemed for his expertise in football content creation. Furthermore, he holds the distinction of being Nigeria's foremost sports kit designer and a trailblazer in the realm of sports graphics in Nigeria.