AFCON 2023: Five Super Eagles stars yet to taste action

The Super Eagles of Nigeria made it to the semi-finals of the 2023 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Ivory Coast on Friday following a hard-fought 1-0 win over Angola.

Ademola Lookman’s first-time left-footed finish in the 41st minute courtesy of a world-class assist from Moses Simon gave Nigeria victory in the quarter-final of AFCON 2023.

That game was the Super Eagles’ fifth of the tournament, however, a total of five players are yet to taste action from the 25 that made coach Jose Peseiro’s final list.

With Nigeria set to face South Africa in the semi-final on Wednesday, the Guardian Sports takes a look at the five players yet to taste action as the team has two more matches to play…

Olorunleke Ojo (Enyimba, Nigeria)
Olorunleke Ojo is the only player from the Nigerian Premier Football League (NPFL) listed in the final 25-man squad by Peseiro but the goalkeeper will certainly find it difficult to feature at all.

Ojo, a seasoned goalkeeper with a decorated domestic career, helped Enyimba secure the NPFL title during the 2022/23 season but his lack of international experience puts him behind the first choice goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali and Francis Uzoho.

Despite his NPFL accolades, debuting in the pressure cooker of the AFCON might be a risk Peseiro is hesitant to take. Ojo was nominated for Enyimba Player of the Month for December before the start of AFCON 2023.

He helped Enyimba to a four-game unbeaten run in the month and saved a penalty as the People’s Elephants beat Bayelsa United in Yenagoa. He has four clean sheets but has conceded twelve goals in eleven games this season.

As for his participation at AFCON 2023, it appears to be an impossibility, especially with Nwabali’s wonderful performances with Uzoho deputising.

Bruno Onyemaechi (Boavista, Portugal)
Bruno Onyemaechi just like his fellow Nigerian, Chidozie Awaziem, has been a regular starter for Boavista of Portugal this season. Still, he struggles to dislodge Zaidu Sanusi from the left-back spot.

Sanusi, who plays his club football for FC Porto, also in Portugal, has been the first-choice at the left-back position, having played all five games for Nigeria at AFCON 2023.

Sanusi has the strong backing of Peseiro despite his shaky displays. He is likely to start the semi-final against South Africa. Injury to Sanusi will be the only reason Onyemaechi might be handed game time.

Onyemaechi has come up with one assist for Boavista in 2023/24 but he is yet to keep any single clean sheet while picking up four yellow cards in 15 matches across all competitions.

Ahmed Musa

[files] Nigeria Super Eagles Player, Ahmed Musa PHOTO:Getty images

Ahmed Musa (Sivasspor, Turkey)
Ahmed Musa despite being the Super Eagles captain is yet to feature at all for Nigeria in Ivory Coast but Peseiro has insisted that the attacker remains a crucial figure for the team.

“He can play and also be a good leader,” Peseiro said at the post-match press conference after Nigeria’s 2-0 victory against Cameroon in the round of 16 last Saturday.

“If Musa weren’t an option, I wouldn’t have called him up into my final squad list but because he is, his contribution goes beyond the pitch.”

Musa has played a total of 237 minutes (4 games) of football since August 2023 but the 2013 AFCON winner has hit the back of the net on one occasion for Sivasspor this season.

The winger on December 7, 2023, scored his first goal in 20 months to help Sivasspor secure a 2-1 win over Arnavutkoy Belediyespor in the fourth round of the Turkish Cup.

The goal was his first for Sivasspor in what was his 28th appearance across all competitions in the colours of the Turkish clubside.

The Super Eagles skipper before then last scored on February 26, 2022, when his former club, Fatih Karagümrük defeated Istanbul Basaksehir 2-1 in the Turkish Super Lig.

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Kelechi Iheanacho is ready to shoot down Sudan…today

Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England)
Super Eagles chief coach, Peseiro once again expressed belief in Kelechi Iheanacho and said the Leicester City attacker will play at the 2023 African Cup of Nations (AFCON).

Peseiro said this at the pre-match press conference ahead of the Super Eagles’ AFCON 2023 round of 16 clash with the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon on Saturday, January 27.

However, Nigeria has played two more matches against Cameroon and Angola in the ongoing continental football showpiece but ‘Seniorman’ is yet to play for a single minute.

Iheanacho’s participation at AFCON 2023 in Ivory Coast was initially doubtful, having last played for Leicester in a 1-1 draw with Ipswich Town in a Sky Bet Championship fixture on Boxing Day.

He was out with a muscle injury, leading to Leicester boss, Enzo Maresca to be uncertain of his AFCON participation. However, Peseiro included him in his AFCON 2023 final 25-man squad list.

That was with the hope that he would regain full fitness before the Super Eagles kicked off their campaign. But despite attending training, he has yet to feature at all.

Iheanacho, who was considered by Peseiro as a striker alongside Victor Osimhen, Victor Boniface and Umar Sadiq before the latter two withdrew due to injury, has six goals and two assists in 21 games for the Foxes this season.

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HARRISON, NEW JERSEY – JUNE 02: Terem Moffi #19 of Nigeria looks on during the first half against Ecuador at Red Bull Arena on June 02, 2022 in Harrison, New Jersey. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Terem Moffi (OGC Nice, France)
OGC Nice of France striker, Terem Moffi is one of five Nigerian players yet to taste action at the 2023 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) which will end on Sunday, February 11.

Moffi was not even supposed to be in Ivory Coast at all but he was confirmed as a replacement for the injured Victor Boniface in Nigeria’s final 25-man squad for the 2023 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Ivory Coast.

On January 8, it was reported that Boniface would be withdrawing from the 2023 AFCON. The Bayer Leverkusen forward of Germany suffered a groin injury in training that ruled him out of the competition.

Despite Moffi making Peseiro’s provisional 40-man list for the AFCON, he was not included in the final 25-man list that was released, losing out to Real Sociedad star, Umar Sadiq and Boniface.

Moffi who has four goals in 14 appearances for the Super Eagles has struggled for form with Nice this season as the striker has scored just six goals and made two assists in 17 Ligue 1 games this season.

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