AFCON 2023: 5 achievements Super Eagles can be proud of despite losing to Ivory Coast

The Super Eagles have plenty of positives to take from AFCON 2023 despite the heartbreaking defeat to Ivory Coast |Photo Credit: Imago

AFCON 2023: 5 achievements Super Eagles can be proud of despite losing to Ivory Coast

Asukwo Oduo 09:08 - 15.02.2024

The Africa Cup of Nations ended on Sunday night, with coach Emerse Fae leading Ivory Coast to a third title despite being in charge for less than a month.

Before a ball was kicked at AFCON 2023, not many expected the Super Eagles to excel, considering the team’s poor run of form going into the competition. However, after a disappointing 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea, coach Jose Peseiro’s team was up and running.   

The Super Eagles of Nigeria’s journey at AFCON 2023 ended on a heart-wrenching note, losing the final 1-2 to the host country, despite taking the lead in the first-half.

var widgetLoaderConfig = widgetLoaderConfig || { CDN_URL: '', APP_LINK: 'desktop', API_URL: '', API_KEY: '2f852b4de2f3a5cf3188e74b33087bb4:2c18422f8e826a7d11aeed52edb2449e', LANG: 'en', REQUEST_INTERVAL: 30, ENABLE_BET_SLIP: false, AUTHOR: false, THEME: "light", TOURNAMENT_ORDER: "pulse_nigeria", LINK_OPTIONS_V2: { 'player' : { 'url': '/football/player/{playerId}' }, 'team' : { 'url': '/football/{teamId}' }, 'tournament': { 'url': '/football/competition/{tournamentId}' }, 'match': { 'url' : '/football/match/{matchId}', 'sort': { 'criteria': 'alphabetically', 'direction': 'asc' } }, 'configuration': { 'newWindow': false }, 'standings_tournament': { 'url': '/football/competition/{tournamentId}/standings' } } }; if (!document.querySelector('script[src=""]')) { window.setTimeout(function () { let scriptCss = document.createElement('link'); scriptCss.href = ''; scriptCss.rel = 'stylesheet'; scriptCss.type = 'text/css'; document.body.appendChild(scriptCss); let scriptTag = document.createElement('script'); scriptTag.src = ''; scriptTag.defer = true; scriptTag.onload = function () { window.setTimeout(function () { new SMPWidgetsLoader(widgetLoaderConfig); }, 200); }; document.head.appendChild(scriptTag); }, 0); } else { new SMPWidgetsLoader(widgetLoaderConfig); }

Saudi-based Franck Kessie and Dortmund’s Sebastien Haller combined to strike a painful dagger through the hearts of millions of Nigerians, who were expecting the Super Eagles to win a continental trophy for the first time in 10 years.

Meanwhile, in spite of the agonising defeat, the Super Eagles and her fans can take solace in some of these five outstanding achievements by the team during the course of the competition. 

1. A new solid goalkeeper

The discovery of Chippa United’s Stanley Nwabali has been one of the highlights of this year’s AFCON for the Super Eagles.

The ex-Katsina United shot-stopper kept four clean sheets in the tournament and barring the Super Eagles’ capitulation against Ivory Coast in the final, Nwabali would have picked up the golden gloves award ahead of South Africa’s Ronwen Williams.

Nwabali was the hero in Nigeria’s semi-final victory over South Africa, producing some excellent saves, including two during the penalty shootouts.

Since the departure of Vincent Enyeama from the national team, Nigeria has suffered a dearth of safe hands between the sticks. 

However, it appears that gap is now fully plugged with the impressive and reliable Stanley Nwabali manning the post for the West African powerhouse.    

2. A formidable backline

In the games leading to the Africa Nations Cup, the Super Eagles did not just have a goalkeeping problem, the backline was also leaking goals - conceding at least one in almost every game. 

In Ivory Coast, the same problem was evident in the first game, with Nigeria conceding first against Equatorial Guinea. This prompted coach Jose Peseiro to act.

The Portuguese switched to three at the back. The trio of Calvin Bassey, Semi Ajayi and the impressive Williams Troost-Ekong marshalling the troupe.

Nigeria’s backline conceded just one goal up until the semi-final stage where Teboho Mokoeha beat Nwabali from the spot in the 90th minute. 

The Super Eagles later conceded two more goals in the final. Only South Africa who conceded three goals in the entire tournament boast a better defensive backline than  Nigeria. 

3. Troost-Ekong named best player of the tournament

Super Eagles vice captain Williams Troost-Ekong rolled back the years and put in some outstanding performances in the just concluded AFCON 2023.

The 30-year-old who was considering retirement from international football after he was overlooked for months by Jose Peseiro was the shiny light of Nigeria’s AFCON journey.

He was immense at the back, organinsing, leading, and motivating the rest of the squad to give their best. 

Williams Troost-Ekong was also lethal going forward, scoring three goals (two from the penalty spot) and a bullet header to put Nigeria in front in the final.

In Williams Troost-Ekong, Nigeria has found a new leader in the mould of the great but late Stephen Keshi.

4. Nigeria shines in CAF XI of the tournament

The Super Eagles were duly represented in the official CAF XI of the competition, with three players - same number as eventual winners Ivory Coast.

Nigeria’s defenders Williams Troost-Ekong and Ola Aina made the list, with the influential Ademola Lookman also making the cut.

However, a strong case can also be made for some Super Eagles players that missed out. Goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali, considering the number of saves he made; the tireless Frank Onyeka (fondly called the tank) also deserves to have made the competition’s best eleven.  

And how can you forget the brilliant Calvin ‘Maldini’ Bassey, who was also crucial for the Super Eagles at the back?

5. Exciting young players for the future

This is where it gets interesting. On Nigeria’s bench at AFCON 2023 were some very exciting young players, many of whom didn’t get a chance to impress because of Peserio’s man-management that has now been questioned.

On Nigeria’s bench was Raphael Onyedika, one of the best young defensive midfielder in the continent, who didn’t get up to 30 minutes of game time at the just-concluded tournament.    

The 22-year-old Club Brugge star was overlooked time and time again when he would have been the perfect replacement for the tiring Frank Onyeka. Yet, on many occasions, Peseiro went for the less effective Joe Aribo.

Also, up until the semi-final against South Africa, Terem Moffi didn’t get any minutes at all. He was also brought on in the final with Nigeria chasing the game.

Nigeria also has Nathan Tella who plays for Bayer Leverkussen but didn’t make the final 25-man squad for AFCON. His teammate Victor Boniface pulled out injured before the competition started. 

There is also Taiwo Awoniyi who also missed out due to injury.  

If Jose Peseiro continues as coach and gives every player a fair chance and not continue his style of overworking a few ‘trusted’ players, then the Super Eagles can withstand any opponent.

Nigeria’s next big match is an international friendly against World Cup winners Argentina. How will the Super Eagles fare?