After an unimpressive start to the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria’s Super Eagles became the first team to reach the semi-finals and have been tipped as favourites for the title.
The Super Eagles boast of an array of stars who have turned up when it mattered most in their quest for a fourth AFCON title. Nigeria will play South Africa in the semi-final on Wednesday. And here are five players whose performances have won fans’ hearts so far.
Since getting the nod to be Nigeria’s first-choice goalkeeper at the 2023 AFCON, Stanley Nwabali has warmed himself into the hearts of Nigeria fans.
His confidence, calmness under pressure, and constant engagement with defenders has brought relief in the goalkeeping area, which is where the Super Eagles has fallen short of quality in recent times.
The Chippa United goalkeeper returned from injury and kept his fourth consecutive clean sheet in the 1-0 win against Angola in Friday’s quarter-finals.
Nwabali has now equalled the feat set by the late Best Ogedengbe and Ike Shorunmu, who did not concede in four consecutive games at the 1980 and 2002 AFCONs respectively.
Although the reigning African Player of the Year has managed just one goal, but he has been a torn in the flesh of defenders.
His tenacity, fighting spirit and doggedness has been a delight to watch for fans.
Osimhen has been involved in almost all the goals the Super Eagles have scored in the tournament. It was the foul on him that led to the penalty against Côte d’Ivoire. His presence forced a Guinea-Bissau player to turn the ball into his own net.
During the round of 16 clash with Cameroon, he pressurized a defender, won the ball before setting up Ademola Lookman for the opener.
Also in the game against Angola, he successfully dragged away two defenders and created space for Lookman to score.
After a row of unconvincing displays in the national team, Ademola Lookman look reinvented and has played a pivotal role in Nigeria’s pursuit for the 2023 AFCON title.
The Atalanta star is the Super Eagles’ top scorer with three goals, scoring in back-to-back games against Cameroon and Angola.
His pace and dribbling ability has been a real weapon for Jose Peseiro’s side when they go on the attack.
He followed his brace against Cameroon in the round of 16 with the only goal against Angola in Friday’s quarter-finals.
Also, he is one of three Super Eagles’ players (Victor Osimhen and Moses Simon) who have won Man of the Match awards.
The Nantes star has come under heavy criticism in recent times but seem to have done enough to win Nigerian fans over at the 2023 AFCON.
It is no surprise that he is the only Super Eagles player who has been named Man of the Match twice – against Guinea-Bissau and Angola.
Despite being one of the three-man forward for the Super Eagles, Simon has shown that he can combine defensive duties with his attacking prowess.
He has had a hand in two of his side’s goals in Cote d’Ivoire. The first was his dangerous cross led to an owngoal against Guinea-Bissau and the second was when he provided the assist for the goal scored by Lookman against Angola.
The Fulham defender looked reborn in the Nigerian green and white jersey with consistent stellar performances in defence.
Bassey did not start in the Super Eagles’ first game against Equatorial Guinea but has become a regular. And he is one of the reasons the team has gone four games without conceding a goal.
He has also shown that apart from defending, he can be dangerous going forward – evident in the 2-0 win against Cameroon when he provided an asist by sending in a delightful cross for Lookman to score the second goal of the game.
Despite being excluded in some of the AFCON 2023 qualifiers, William Troost-Ekong’s return to the Super Eagles has been hinch perfect.
His wealth of experience especially in the cordination of the defence has been immense. He is deservedly the major reason Nigeria boast of the stingiest backline, conceding just one goal in five games.
The PAOK defender also showed that apart from his defensive duties, he can also put in the goals when called upon. He score Nigeria’s only goal in the 1-0 win against hosts Côte d’Ivoire in tne group stage from the penalty spot.
Troost-Ekong deservedly has the heart of many Nigerians who have a strong belief that this may yet be another time they become champions of Africa.