Why Peseiro’s Nigeria Are AFCON 2023 Favourites After Elimination of Senegal and Morocco

Why Peseiro’s Nigeria Are AFCON 2023 Favourites After Elimination of Senegal and Morocco

Martin Moses
updated at February 13, 2024 at 11:54 AM
In this article:
Nigeria logo
Victor Osimhen logo
V. Osimhen
Napoli logoFNigeria logo
CAF Africa Cup of Nations logo
Angola logo
South Africa logo
South Africa
South Africa
Cape Verde logo
Cape Verde
Cape Verde
Senegal logo
Morocco logo
  • Senegal and Morocco's exits have opened up some interesting possibilities at AFCON 2023
  • The top-five ranked nations by FIFA have all exited, leaving Nigeria at the top of the pile
  • Here's why the Super Eagles are now the favourites to reach and win the February 11 final

If, at all, there is something like a 'script' in football, then the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations definitely hasn't followed it.

A few days before the start of the tournament, Nigeria were not considered tournament favourites.

The Super Eagles had done little to inspire after drawing against Lesotho and Zimbabwe in November before losing to Guinea just a few days before the tournament.

Jose Peseiro, Super Eagles, Victor Osimhen, CAF, AFCON 2023
Nigeria's head coach, Jose Peseiro on the sidelines during an AFCON 2023 game. Photo by Ulrik Pedersen.
Source: Getty Images

Jose Peseiro's squad selection also did little to help, with the Portuguese tactician calling up a lot of forwards compared to midfielders.

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Injuries to Wilfried Ndidi, Victor Bonface and Umar Sadiq made the situation worse and frankly, the Super Eagles weren't supposed to soar.

However, a couple of weeks later, the two-time African Champions remain in the tournament. In fact, of the eight quarter-finalists, they are now the top-ranked nation, sitting sixth in the continent and 42nd worldwide on FIFA Rankings.

Why Nigeria are AFCON 2023 favourites

The tournament has shown a strong dislike to the tag 'favourites' - a tag Nigeria will now have to bear against Angola and for the rest of the tournament if they get past the Palancas Negras.

Methinks the Super Eagles are on a stroll to the trophy. Here's why:

1. Strong defense

Sir Alex Ferguson will widely be remembered for many things, including his iconic quote, 'a good attack wins you games, but a strong defence wins you titles'.

Nigeria have conceded only once in Ivory Coast, thwarting the hosts themselves and Cameroon in the process.

Peseiro will be hoping Stanley Nwabali will be fit to continue. The Chippa United shot-stopper has been a solid figure, leading the tournament in terms of clean sheets.

Fbref stats show that he has faced nine shots so far, saving eight of them, giving him a save percentage of 88.9% - the most by any goalkeeper. That defence no gree for anybody.

2. Peseiro's tactical nous

Ideally, Nigeria's impressive defence should fall here, but the 63-year-old deserves standalone credit for his adaptation in the tournament. After struggling against Equatorial Guinea in their opening game, Peseiro reverted to a back three, opting to add Calvin Bassey in the middle and pushing Ola Aina and Zaidu Sanusi upfront as wingbacks.

Nigeria haven't conceded since. And Aina has been superb.

Peseiro also moved Frank Onyeka to the base of midfield following Alhassan Yusuf's injury. The Brentford star work rate in the win over Cameroon was mercurial.

There have been concerns about Zaidu's output, though and it will be interesting to see how Peseiro deals with the Porto defender. Using Bassey as a wingback and Kenneth Omeruo as a third centre-back looks like a feasible idea on account of the last 10 minutes of the game vs Cameroon.

3. Victor Osimhen's threat

Unconfirmed reports state that CAF took in the Napoli forward for random doping tests after the Cameroon game. The Africa Player of the Year left everything on the pitch with his lung-bursting runs.

In a tournament where star players have hardly shone, Osimhen offers something different - he can assist, make runs, harass defenders, intimidate referees, and more.

His presence upfront instils fear and if Nigeria wants to win its first title since 2013, the Arsenal and Chelsea target will need to keep being a nuisance.

4. Senegal, Morocco have been eliminated

Many people were sure that the AFCON 2023 title would either head to Rabat or remain in Dakar. But after their unceremonious exits, a new capital is now whetting their appetite for the 2024 parade.

Being a favourite or having star players has meant nothing. Only Angola and one of Cape Verde or South Africa stand in their way for a place in the final. Looks straightforward on paper, right?

'Straightforwardness' hasn't worked so far. Can the conservative Peseiro change the narrative?

Peseiro issues Nwabali update

Sports Brief has also reported that Peseiro provided an update on Nwabali's condition, following his collision with Cameroon's Georges-Kevin Nkoudou.

The goalkeeper is set to undergo an MRI scan to discover the extent of his injury and the Super Eagles would hope he can return for their quarter-final date.

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Martin Moses
Martin Moses is a sports journalist with over five years of experience in media. He graduated from Multimedia University of Kenya (Bachelor of Journalism, 2017-2021)