The Super Eagles striker has drawn criticism for scoring one goal leading up to the final, but is there validity to those underperformance claims at the Cup of Nations?
Everyone has something to say about Victor Osimhen. Everyone has something to say when Osimhen plays poorly or is perceived to. Opinion is divided regarding the Super Eagles centre-forward’s Africa Cup of Nations output, with every matchday typified by a now exasperating back and forth.
For some, every game without the Napoli forward failing to find the back of the net is an opportunity to remind observers that the striker has been unsuccessful in his attempts to add to his solitary goal at the finals. As expected, that inflames contrary opinions and then some. Social media is not an avenue to gauge opinion, but if it was, one side probably tells you the striker has had a stinker, while another argues he is in the conversation to be named the tournament’s best player.
The bickering does not stop. Frankly, it is exhausting. Nearly everyone sticks to the intense end of their arguments, keen to push a motive. Unsurprisingly, the other side never backs down. Before examining Osimhen’s AFCON 2023 performance, it is necessary to understand that more than one thing can be true.
16:02 - 08.02.2024
Serie A champions Napoli were slammed by Nigerians last week for not celebrating Victor Osimhen's efforts with Nigeria at AFCON 2023.
10:15 - 10.02.2024
Nigerians get ready to lift AFCON 2023 as President Tinubu set to watch the Super Eagles vs Cote d’Ivoire.
Victor Osimhen: Profligate finisher?
Saying Osimhen has had a below-par tournament in front of goal will be putting it mildly. The stats, which validate the eye test, do not make for pleasant reading. The Napoli striker has taken more shots than anyone at AFCON 2023, but only one of his 24 efforts have found the back of the net.
According to Opta, the centre-forward’s 4% conversion rate is not only the worst at the Cup of Nations, but the Nigeria superstar has already outdone everyone except Asamoah Gyan (25) and Vincent Aboubakar (31) for shots taken at every Cup of Nations since the 2010 edition. The two African legends netted one and eight at AFCONs 2013 and 2021, respectively, and Osimhen could move level with the ex-Ghana international if he keeps his record of shooting at goal in every game.
Nevertheless, the clearest indicator of Osimhen’s dip in the penalty area is the variance between his Expected Goals (xG) and Expected Goals on target (xGOT) — 3.46 and 1.71. Given that every shot has a corresponding value based on the location and quality, all the attempts made by the Nigerian add up to 3.46xG. However, the xGOT is only calculated after the shot is taken, with the placement for efforts on target determining the corresponding value, i.e. attempts directed straight at the goalkeeper often carry a lesser xGOT value than shots sent into the top corner.
Many of Osimhen’s attempts at AFCON 2023 have been off target — i.e. they carry a value of 0 — further explaining how his xG outdoes his xGOT by 1.75. However, this broadly is an anomaly for the Napoli centre-forward, evidenced by the striker’s xG and xGOT in the last two full seasons and the ongoing one.
The representation above in Osimhen’s recent domestic and European campaigns underscores the assertion that the striker’s AFCON 2023 finishing is not the norm. Apart from the 2021-22 Europa League campaign, the striker’s xGOT has tended to outdo his xG, even if the Napoli striker still netted four times from xG of 2.13 — possibly highlighting a blind spot with underlying metrics.
Nevertheless, the claim that Osimhen’s value is diminished because of his lack of goals in Cote d’Ivoire fails to consider the whole picture with the Super Eagles star.
Victor Osimhen’s influence goes beyond goalscoring
Critics are bound to scoff. After all, goalkeepers are expected to prevent goals — in conjunction with their backline — midfielders are in the side to control, create or destroy, depending on their profiles, and strikers are meant to put the ball in the net. As always, nuanced conversations are required.
Admittedly, Osimhen has not pulled up trees with his chance conversion, abnormal by his standards, even if the Napoli forward’s utility in the Super Eagles attack is recognisable, especially when leaves the side at risk of a physical collapse in Sunday’s decider with Ivory Coast.
The value of having Osimhen in the team is underscored by his willingness to lead a team’s press, occupy defenders for the benefit of his teammates and the movement in both channels to drag players out of position. The striker’s penchant for chasing lost causes saw the African Footballer of the Year rob Oumar Gonzalez of the ball against Cameroon before setting up the first of Ademola Lookman’s brace, and his movement against Angola opened the gap for the Atalanta forward to run into and convert to put the Super Eagles in the lead.
Apart from those situations, the winning penalty to defeat Ivory Coast earlier in the tournament was effectively Osimhen’s doing, and he nearly won the game-winning spot-kick converted by William Troost-Ekong in the competition’s semi-final.
The latter was doubly outstanding as he not only overcame abdominal discomfort in the build-up to the game that made him doubtful but also the decisiveness to pick the ball in a non-threatening position, drive aggressively into the penalty area and take advantage of Mothobi Mvala’s mistimed attempt for the ball.
Having had limited goalscoring chances come his way against Bafana Bafana, Osimhen still found ways to influence proceedings and could even have benefitted from a second goal at AFCON in a pre-VAR era, with Egyptian referee Amin Omar not spotting Alhassan Yusuf’s foul on Percy Tau before what many thought was a Super Eagles second.
No matter how Sunday’s final goes, Osimhen has not had a horrid Cup of Nations. If anything, his upside is significantly enhanced.
Nigeria vs Ivory Coast
A whole lot has changed since these teams met on January 18. The Super Eagles altered their approach from the 4-2-3-1 to a back three — the first time Peseiro utilised any variation of the formation since his first friendly games in charge of the three-time champions — and the jettisoned Jean-Louis Gasset could not find solutions. The upshot of the Elephants’ inability to create ample menacing situations meant the home side resorted to speculative attempts in Ebimpe.
08:30 - 10.02.2024
PHOTOS: Ahmed Musa, Chukwueze, Iheanacho sweat it out as Super Eagles step up training for Ivory Coast
Nigeria's Super Eagles have stepped up their preparation ahead of the AFCON 2023 final against host nation Cote d'Ivoire.
Gasset has since departed, and a significantly fresher Ivory Coast side seem to have the momentum heading into Sunday, keen to end a two-game losing run against the Super Eagles at the Cup of Nations.
The Elephants have surmounted obstacles and won over supporters after a dreadful start. Peseiro, despite the continued reservations, has this side united in chasing a common goal.
Sunday night in Ebimpe should be all shades of fun for the neutral and nervy for the supporters of either nation.
After a thoroughly satisfying AFCON 2023, we are getting a narrative-laden final. Could Osimhen be saving his best for last?