What next for Super Eagles? Hope & uncertainty for Nigeria after AFCON heartache

There are many unanswered questions about what the future holds for the Super Eagles, with uncertainty about the Nigeria coach and the future of some key players.

Ivory Coast condemned Nigeria to a fifth Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final defeat Sunday evening in Abidjan, running out 2-1 victors at the edition they've hosted for the last month.

William Troost-Ekong gave the eventual losers a first-half lead before Simon Adingra assisted Franck Kessie and Sebastien Haller in hauling the Ivory Coast off the canvas and to the top of the podium.

Nigeria had been the favourites going into the final, yet, in keeping with the theme of this tournament, being more fancied by the bookmakers ultimately did very little to help the Super Eagles’ cause.

Peseiro flipped the coin and almost won for Super Eagles

Ahead of the competition, Nigeria's greatest strengths had been in attack, where Victor Osimhen headlined a potent list of forwards making waves in Europe.

That, though, wasn't what they'd rely on. Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro chose to prioritise defensive compactness, building a formidable back-line with Troost-Ekong — a subject of intense Nigerian criticism before the AFCON — as the chief cornerstone, and propping it all up with the almost invincible figure of new No.1 Stanley Nwabali in goal.

And it worked, with Nigeria conceding just once from open play before the final and just enough going for them at the other end of the pitch.

Super Eagles
Photo by Icon Sport

The performances weren't spectacular, no, but this was just how Peseiro's mentor, namesake, compatriot, and “best friend” Jose Mourinho would have gone through a tournament.

The Super Eagles came unstuck at the final hurdle, though, their resolve broken by rare defensive slip-ups ruthlessly exploited by the resilient and relentless Ivorians.

So, where does this leave Nigeria? 

In a very uncertain place, technically.

Peseiro was initially contracted, in May 2022, for a little over a year, his appointment expected to cover the original duration of the 2024 AFCON (mid-2023).

But the AFCON got postponed by six months, and, despite hardly impressing, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) decided to contract him further still, at least until the end of the finals in the Ivory Coast.

Peseiro's Super Eagles had won just six of 16 games prior to the AFCON, and while results at the showpiece have definitely improved the Portuguese's win percentage — still well under 50% — and generally improved his standing in the eyes of Nigerian fans, not many would be saddened to see his back if he stays no longer that he already has.

Photo by Icon Sport

Peseiro going beyond the target of reaching the AFCON semis means he may well stay on, but the coach revealed during the tournament that he had already turned down a freshly proposed renewal. Whether Peseiro remains or is replaced, however, this group has the ingredients required to excel in future assignments.

Bright spots & upcoming Super Eagles assignments

Even in the gloom of defeat in the AFCON final, it shouldn't be forgotten that there were several bright spots all over the pitch for Nigeria at this tournament.

The squad had an average age of just over 26 years; take out the likes of Troost-Ekong, Ahmed Musa, Kenneth Omeruo and Semi Ajayi — the only ones aged 30 or older — and that figure gets even younger.

The next Nigeria manager, though, may not be in such a hurry to beat that number down, considering the important roles some of those older Super Eagles players — especially Troost-Ekong and Ajayi — had out on the field at this AFCON.

Photo by Icon Sport

Turkey-based veterans Omeruo and Musa, remnants of the last title-winning Nigeria team (from 2013), have likely reached the end of the road and may lose their places to fresher faces.

Improving the team shouldn't be too difficult. Nigeria has one of the deepest talent pools in world football — both at home and in the diaspora — into which some may even argue Peseiro hasn't tapped deeply enough during his tenure.

There is only enough brooding time during which Nigeria can take stock of their almost successful AFCON campaign and plan for the future.

The next competitive international games for the Super Eagles, the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, come around in June, with Nigeria's poor start last year, meaning they have ground to make up when they face rivals South Africa and neighbours Benin.

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Godfred Budu

Godfred Budu is a purpose-driven Ghanaian sports writer with a sharp eye for excellence. He has had stints with www.kickgh.com inkandkicks.com and ghanafans.com. He loves to talk and write about football on the African continent.