AFCON 2023 – Nigeria draws group A with hosts Ivory Coast

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Nigeria’s placement in Pot 2 of the AFCON 2023 draw always threatened a ‘Group of Death’ scenario. To the chagrin of Nigerian football fans, so it proved, with the Super Eagles drawing hosts Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, and Guinea Bissau.

It’s certainly not a straightforward group, yet there are reasons to be positive, despite recent disappointments. The squad is clearly talented, with several top-end players, and the renewed optimism in the camp is palpable since Jose Peseiro joined as head coach. In this preview, we’ll go over what you can expect from the Super Eagles in the upcoming tournament.

Nigeria’s Chances at AFCON 2023

With the tournament fast approaching, the build-up coverage is reaching a fever pitch. Nigeria has a strong AFCON history to look back on as the fourth most successful team ever, with 3 tournament trophies and 4 runners-up medals. With the last win coming over a decade ago in 2013, Nigeria will be looking to add to their increasingly dusty trophy cabinet.

But what do the experts say? Most expect Nigeria to do well, but local journalists are a little more reserved. It makes sense, considering the team missed out on the World Cup, but most analysts are positive about Nigeria’s prospects at the tournament.

Most bookmakers on the continent, whether you’re looking at top sportsbooks in South Africa or Morocco, place Nigeria as third-favourites for the trophy, edging World Cup semi-finalists Morocco and hosts Ivory Coast.

The only teams bookies believe have a greater chance of taking it all are Cameroon and Senegal. Egypt, with Mo Salah in tow, sits a lowly eighth in predictions.

It’s clear that Nigeria has to reach the semi-finals at the very minimum in order to meet pre-tournament predictions. For some, a spot in the final is the target. The level of pressure on the team has not been this big for a very long time, but considering the players on the squad, it’s to be expected.

Lessons from AFCON 2021

Nigeria booked their spot into the last 16 early in the last edition of the tournament, beat favourites Egypt 1-0, and topped their group. But just as people were starting to believe the Super Eagles were capable of something truly historic, the team crashed out of the tournament in an embarrassing fashion against Tunisia.

Nigeria looked toothless as it lost 1-0 against the absolute undergods, and many at home once again began to question the federation’s decision to appoint Augustine Eguavoen so close to the start of the tournament. But of course, that interpretation is loaded with emotion and lacks the nuances of the small moments that end up deciding matches.

In this contest, the unlucky protagonist was ex-Arsenal starlet Alex Iwobi, sent off for a reckless challenge just seven minutes after entering the pitch as a substitute. Even the most seasoned sides can struggle with ten men, and so it proved that the red card would be Nigeria’s ultimate undoing.

Even before the red card, however, Nigeria looked shaky. The lesson is one that many teams don’t learn: don’t peak too early. Nigeria grabbed the full nine from the group stages, yet ran out of steam very quickly once they started playing for all the marbles.

Remembering The Last AFCON Trophy

For many Nigerian fans, it seems only yesterday that Sunday Mba wrote his name into footballing history by scoring the only goal against Burkina Faso in a tense AFCON final.

In a scrappy and competitive match, largely dominated by Nigeria, the former Warri Wolves midfielder volleyed the ball into the far corner in what would end up being the decisive moment in the final.

The tournament would prove the old adage that favourites never win the cup, with Nigeria knocking off pre-tournament darlings Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals. After then dispatching Mali in the semis, the Super Eagles prompted huge parties all over Nigeria after their 1-0 win.

Erasing the Memories of Qatar 2022

Nigeria not only crashed out of AFCON 2021 with a whimper, they also had to watch Messi lifting the World Cup trophy from a couch at home. The team painfully missed out on qualification in the playoffs against Ghana, and many believe that AFCON is the chance to erase that painful memory. Jose Peseiro, the team’s coach, has taken it a step further: he’s vowed to win the tournament. With a squad loaded with top-quality players, a seasoned coach, and the painful lessons of past tournaments, AFCON 2023 looks like the perfect opportunity to add to Nigeria’s storied footballing history .

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