Welcome to 2024. I hope that you will achieve all your dreams in this new year. I wish you and your family all the best in good health and prosperity.
These are difficult times for every Nigerian, home and abroad. Our collective pain is felt no matter where you are around the world. One cannot escape the news of economic turmoil and security upheaval, killings on the Plateau, and kidnappings in the city. Nigeria is faced with enormous challenges, and it wasn’t easy to celebrate the holidays. But, as always, we will remain hopeful for better days.
That is why the Africa Cup of Nations is very important now. We all know that the Super Eagles represent more than a football team; they symbolize our hopes and aspirations as a people. When the boys don the green and white and chant Arise o compatriots in front of the world, we want them to fly with wings as Eagles and conquer everything in front of them. We want them to score goals and keep clean sheets.
However, the team’s strength in recent years has not been inspiring. We have failed to win games convincingly, and we have the worst goalkeeping crisis since I started covering the team almost two decades ago.
Peseiro’s squad: Is that the best we have?
Coach Jose Peseiro released his list of 25 players for the Afcon last week. As usual, like the famed elephant that was killed in the marketplace, all manner of knives and cutting implements have been brought to dissect its entrails.
Is Peseiro’s squad good enough to win us a fourth Afcon title? Can we do it again, as the communication managers of the Super Eagles have been drumming into our ears on several platforms over the last few months?
Is Ahmed Musa worthy of a role in the Super Eagles despite playing only four matches at his club, Sivasspor, in Turkey in the 2023/24 season? He has the experience and earns respect among his teammates to keep the camp focused, but does he deserve to make another Afcon squad?
I was at his first Afcon 11 years ago when the Eagles won the trophy in Johannesburg. And as much as I
respect his legacy in Nigerian football, he should have been kept out of the squad this time. He did announce that Cameroon 2021 would be his last appearance, I wonder why he failed to keep that promise.
I riled up the Nigeria Sports Village Square WhatsApp group members last week when I attempted to justify Musa’s inclusion. I even predicted that Musa would be very key to Nigeria’s Afcon challenge and that he would score our title-winning goal. Everyone thinks I’m mad. Or the unsaid that I may have been paid. Haha.
The return of Ekong
I am happy at the inclusion of William Troost-Ekong in the squad. The defense needs his experience. I caught up with him in Frankfurt after his club PAOK Thessaloniki’s Europa Conference League victory against Eintracht on November 30. We talked about his non-invitation to the team, his last being for the 4-0 friendly defeat to Portugal in 2022.
He told me about his continued interest in playing for Nigeria and the sacrifices he endured leading to losing his place at Watford after Cameroon 2021. The Afcon is very important to Ekong, and he wants to win it with the Super Eagles following the bronze medal at Egypt 2019.
I was glad to see him included in the squad by Peseiro. He should offer more experience for his knowledge of African football in the central defense, where Calvin Bassey and Semilore Ajayi have often struggled in recent times to keep opponents at bay. The Afcon is too important not to have adequate cover in the back line.
The year of Boniface?
While last year was the year of Victor Osimhen, Nigeria’s first CAF Men’s Player of the Year since 1999, Victor Boniface will be the attacking star of the Afcon for the Super Eagles. His array of skills as both a striker and creator will help to strengthen our reputation as a dangerous team in the forward line.
Boniface arrived in the German Bundesliga this season and has notched up goals and assists, leading to accolades in the German media. His five Rookie of the Month awards have shown his impact on the Bayer Leverkusen team goes beyond scoring goals. His creativity on the ball and the ability to push play up front and deliver passes to his teammates sets him apart from the all-action battering ram style of Osimhen.
If they are both fit throughout the tournament, they will provide a constant headache to our opponents and deliver the goals that should keep us in the tournament.
And if we are lucky to have an inspiring performance from the goalkeeping department that is our Achilles heel, we may be able to have a great Afcon and potentially reach the final in Abidjan on February 11.
The midfield looks too thin in terms of call-ups. The recent injury to Wilfred Ndidi means we will struggle in that zone.
But through vibes and inshallah, we may have a good tournament. However, don’t keep your hopes up, folks, nothing is promised.
Happy New Year, once again.