In the months leading up to the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, Nigeria’s Super Eagles were hailed as the tournament favourites, primarily due to an abundance of quality strikers under the helm of head coach Jose Peseiro.
Gift Orban’s stellar performances for KAA Gent, Paul Onuachu’s resurgence with Trabzonspor, Akor Adams lighting up the French Ligue 1 for Montpellier, Terem Moffi’s excellent displays for OGC Nice, and the unstoppable Victor Boniface wreaking havoc in the Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen made Nigeria’s attack the envy of many.
The list extended to Cyriel Dessers at Glasgow Rangers, Umar Sadiq scoring world-class goals for Real Sociedad, Chuba Akpom’s prolific scoring at Ajax Amsterdam, Kelechi Iheanacho’s pivotal role at Leicester City, and Taiwo Awoniyi’s impressive displays for Nottingham Forest against top Premier League sides.
However, the first sign of trouble surfaced in December when Awoniyi sustained an injury playing for Forest.
It was a major setback for coach Peseiro. However, with ample backups, the Portuguese tactician remained confident.
Iheanacho then suffered a knock that kept him out of a couple of Leicester’s matches in the Championship in the same month. The former Manchester City forward, though, maintained he would shake off the injury well before the AFCON kicked off.
Surprisingly, Peseiro’s final 25-man squad for the AFCON featured only four center-forwards, including the recuperating Iheanacho.
This development fueled speculations and later reports that the NFF encouraged a larger squad, a move that coach Peseiro allegedly rejected. The narrative shifted when more injuries began to plague the team.
The blow intensified as Boniface suffered a groin injury during the team’s week-long training camp in the United Arab Emirates.
The Bayer Leverkusen forward left for Germany immediately for surgery, while Terem Moffi, his replacement, faces delays in joining the squad.
The OGC Nice forward is set to be unavailable for Nigeria’s opening match against Equatorial Guinea.
The unfolding crisis reached new heights when Umar Sadiq succumbed to injury on Thursday, casting doubt on his participation in the AFCON.
Trabzonspor’s Onuachu, who scored his 9th league goal of the Turkish league season tonight, has emerged as his potential replacement.
Onuachu and Moffi will look to contribute their quota to Nigeria’s success when they eventually land in Cote d’Ivoire.
The duo will, however, need time to get into the groove of the Eagles’ tactical set-up as they were not part of the preparations in the Abu Dhabi camp.
Iheanacho’s rehabilitation efforts provided a glimmer of hope, but his participation in Nigeria’s opening match versus the National Thunder remains uncertain.
By Sunday afternoon, when Nigeria take on Equatorial Guinea, Victor Osimhen will likely be the solitary center-forward in the Super Eagles squad, a terrible situation for a team that once boasted the best attack line on the continent.
Nigeria’s once meticulously planned AFCON campaign now appears in disarray, far from the envisaged onslaught, and the nation’s football enthusiasts are left grappling with an appalling reality.
The focus now shifts to safeguarding Victor Osimhen at all costs.
His management, fitness, and training regimen must be meticulously calculated to mitigate injury risks.
Anything befalling him could extinguish Nigeria’s last flickering hopes of clinching the 2023 AFCON trophy.