What next for Super Eagles after Nigeria advanced to AFCON 2024 semis?

Nigeria took a step closer towards that elusive fourth Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title with a 1-0 over Angola in Abidjan on Friday, progressing to the semi-finals with a composed performance.

Atalanta winger Ademola Lookman was the difference, just as in the Round of 16 victory over Cameroon, hammering the winner home in the first half following fine work on the left by Moses Simon.

The Super Eagles back-line stood out for special mention, neutralising the tournament's joint-most prolific attack.

Nobody who watched Nigeria's previous games at this tournament would have been surprised by that defensive display, though.

Those matches had seen the rear-guard weather almost everything thrown at it, and, on this occasion, the clearly well-drilled set-up stayed true to form.

The Super Eagles still haven't conceded since their opening game, and, playing like this, they don't look like doing so anytime soon.

Upfront, the Super Eagles made up for what they lacked in incision — only three of 13 shots landed on goal, and the closest they came to adding to their lead was a Victor Osimhen header ruled out for offside — with a sense of urgency, that trait largely absent from their group games but which was abundantly evident against Cameroon.

Nigeria embrace AFCON 2024 favourites tag

Teams fancied to win this AFCON have been an endangered species, with a whole raft of them — all rated ahead of Nigeria by Opta's supercomputer prior to the tournament's commencement — eliminated by the end of the Round of 16.

Those exits helped propel Nigeria — the highest-ranked team left in this AFCON — to the top of the favourites chart, yet any who expected Jose Peseiro's team to show signs of discomfort brought on by the weight of that tag would have been left disappointed by the maturity that characterised their collective performance.

The Super Eagles only won narrowly, yes, but they were generally assured and unruffled, even during those spells when Angola had opportunities to pile on the pressure and make serious inroads into the final third.

It appears the Super Eagles are taking it all in their stride, and even if they are still a gear or two away from really dominating and subjugating the opposition, they're playing with a high level of effectiveness and adjusting the flow of games to their tempo.

Nigeria have learnt to coast rather than hit the accelerator, and as they go into the semi-final, they're unlikely to play to the gallery now. Why change, really, when operating in cruise control has brought them this far and is working just fine?

Are Super Eagles winning this, then?

It's still too early to tell, even if Nigeria are just two games away from glory.

You've probably heard this far too often by this point of this AFCON, but nothing is given for any side, regardless of what their pedigree may be or which odds the bookmakers have come up with.

There have been enough warning examples for the Super Eagles to take heed and not let all the talk about their improved chances get into their heads, but if those cautionary tales aren't enough, reference should be made to the country's record in AFCON semi-finals over the years.

Super Eagles
Photo by Icon Sport

Of the 15 last-four games the Super Eagles have played — only record champions Egypt have been in more — just seven have been won; their most recent, in 2019, was lost.

The next would come against either Cape Verde (the surprise package of this AFCON) or South Africa – long-time rivals of Nigeria – on February 7.

Only if Nigeria prevail in that encounter, in Bouake, can Peseiro and his charges afford a proper sniff of the glory that lies beyond.

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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.