AFCON 2023: What Is Wrong With The Super Eagles Of Nigeria?

By football pedigree and heritage, the two teams should not be a match for Nigeria.

Super Eagles
Super Eagles [Channels TV]

The Super Eagles of Nigeria three times African champions are currently ranked the sixth-best team in Africa and 40th overall in the world. However, the self-acclaimed giants of Africa have picked up a dismal two points from the opening two matches of the FIFA 2026 World Cup qualifiers played over the last week.

Nigeria were held to a 1-1 home draw by the Crocodiles of Lesotho in their Group C opener before coming from behind to pick up a point against the Warriors of Zimbabwe in their second match. By football pedigree and heritage, the two teams should not be a match for Nigeria.

Zimbabwe is ranked 123rd in the world, while Lesotho is a hundred-plus place below, occupying the 153rd position.

So what are the issues? What are the Super Eagles struggling and what is the solution? More so, will they make it to the first FIFA Men’s World that will be hosted across three continents, spread across 16 cities in three North American countries Canada, Mexico, and the United States? We pick the issues one after the other.

The Coach: Jose Peseiro

The arrival of the experienced Portuguese tactician, José Santos Peseiro in May 2022 was supposed to herald a new era for the Super Eagles after they failed to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar under the leadership of the former Eagles defender, Augustine Eguavoen. He started well as the head coach as he led Nigeria to qualification for the 2024 Nations Cup, with their only points dropped coming in a home defeat to Guinea-Bissau.

Since then, the results have taken a downward turn. Peseiro has won six and lost six of his 15 matches in the dugout. The style of football is far from what the Super Eagles are known for. They are laborious and pedestrian: no flare, clear-cut pattern and intensity to their game. This boils down to the coach and his position appears increasingly untenable.

A member of the executive committee of the Nigeria Football Federation in an interview with the press after the Zimbabwean match said they are not happy with the job Pesiero has done, but he admitted the organisation lacks the wherewithal to terminate his contract. This is coming after the 63-year-old coach even agreed to take a pay cut in September.

“Everybody is asking for the sack of the head coach. It’s unfortunate that from a possible six points, we only have two points. We’re in a very precarious situation. If we had the money (to pay for compensation), we would be willing to relieve him of his job,” Nse Essien said.

The Nigerian media have been replete with fans calling for the sack of the coach as well. The calls will only grow louder as preparations get in top gear for the 2024 African Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast in January/February next year.

Super Eagles’ Goalkeeping Position

In times past, it was unthinkable that Nigeria could be struggling to find a good goalkeeper, let alone a better one. Nigeria has been blessed with brilliant goalies: Peter Rufai, Ike Shorunmu and Vincent Enyeama. But since the retirement of the latter in 2015, finding a suitable replacement has been near impossible.

Francis Uzoho has been the number one in goal in the past two years. Before him was Maduka Okoye. Okoye came under criticism after Nigeria’s quarter-final exit from the 2021 Nations Cup: a 1-0 defeat by Tunisia and another 1-0 defeat by the Black Stars of Ghana as Nigeria failed at the playoff for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. He was responsible for the two goals conceded with big howlers.

Uzoho on his own has struggled to inspire confidence from fans, who blamed him for some of the team’s poor results in recent matches. He was beaten by Walter Musona’s stunning long-range free-kick for Zimbabwe. The poor performances from goalkeepers at the back spread panic within the team. That has certainly been the case with the Nigerian Super Eagles.

After the Zimbabwean game, Rufai admitted there is serious concern about the goalkeepers of the Super Eagles: “Yes, we have a goalkeeping problem, but it’s not that we don’t have quality goalkeepers. They need to be courageous, they must be strong and not let the criticisms demoralise them. The entire team should rise to the occasion” Rufai said.

To Nigerian football followers, the situation is unacceptable. Nigeria is a football nation of over 200 million people. There are at least 20 top-flight goalkeepers in the Nigeria Professional Football League. Furthermore, there are hundreds if not thousands of Nigerian goalkeepers scattered around the world who are doing well. Thus it beats one’s imagination why and how the Nigerian Super Eagles cannot have a reliable person in goal.

Why Are the Strikers Not Scoring? Nigeria is blessed with the best strikers in Europe currently. Victor Osimhen of Napoli, Taiwo Awoniyi of Nottingham Forest, Victor Boniface of Bayer Leverkusen, Kelechi Iheanacho of Leicester City, Gift Orban of Gent and Moses Simon of Nantes are all making and scoring goals for fun. Whereas, they could not outscore Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

The team struggled to create clear-cut chances and the few that came along were badly missed. The combination play between the attackers was not fluid and they all appeared indecisive at the right moments. These need to be sorted out as Nigeria heads towards the next AFCON. The forward line is too blessed to be wallowing in underperformances.

What Is The Solution?

The way forward for the above-mentioned issues is not a straight jacket, especially for the coaching situation. The Nigerian football authorities need to sort it out, and it should be done without fear or favour. The technical committee should assess the coach and take a stand on whether he should be sacked or not. The current limbo is not helping matters. The coach needs to know whether he is supported or not. He should not work with doubt in his mind. It will also inspire confidence in him.

If the coach is not good enough, a change should be made. It is less than two months to the next major tournament. There is no time to dance around the issue. The World Cup qualifiers are there to be saved. Nigeria is currently third in the group; so, all is not lost. Something can be salvaged but it all starts with the NFF.

In addition, the coach has to sort out the goalkeeping crises. Uzoho is not good enough going forward. Better goalkeepers should be scouted and brought in. The position is too important to be left in the hands of amateurs. For the strikers, the coach has to find a way and make them clinical whenever they wear the green, white and green. Good tactics and thoughtful selection and combination of the attackers will solve this problem.

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