Nigeria’s Super Eagles have soared through the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, silencing skeptics and positioning themselves for a historic fourth continental triumph.
Unbeaten in the tournament, they are set to clash with hosts Cote d’Ivoire in the final showdown on Sunday.
In their impressive journey to the title-deciding match, the Super Eagles navigated past several fierce foes, including Equatorial Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Angola, and South Africa.
Amidst this collective brilliance, a quintet of standout performers has been instrumental in Nigeria’s success.
Captain and linchpin, Troost-Ekong’s defensive excellence has been the bedrock of Nigeria’s AFCON campaign.
The PAOK defender has been the mastermind behind Nigeria’s incredible defence that has conceded a mere two goals in six matches while securing four clean sheets.
His aerial dominance, statistically second only to Victor Osimhen, has been pivotal.
Troost-Ekong not only anchors the defence but also showcases his goal-scoring ability, netting crucial penalties against Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa. The former Watford man is now Nigeria’s joint-highest-scoring defender in AFCON history, alongside the late Stephen Keshi.
A leading contender for the tournament’s best defender award, his impact resonates beyond the backline.
Reigning Africa Player of the Year, Osimhen, despite limited goal-scoring, has been Nigeria’s talisman.
He played a decisive role in crucial moments, winning penalties against Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa and providing a beast-like assist against Cameroon.
His aerial dominance, winning 4.7 duels per game, underscores his physical superiority.
VAR might have denied him three goals, but Osimhen’s influence extends far beyond the score sheet.
A stellar performance in the final could see him clinch the Player of the Tournament title.
Whatever happens in the final against Cote d’Ivoire, Nwabali will leave AFCON 2023 as Nigeria’s goalkeeping revelation.
With only two international caps before the tournament, the former Lobi Stars goalie has shown no stage fright. Rather, he has demonstrated consistency and brilliance when called upon.
Nwabali made several crucial saves against Cote d’Ivoire and Angola to get Nigerian fans singing his praises.
He will, however, be remembered forever for his spectacular showing against South Africa in the semifinal.
The clash against the Bafana Bafana saw Nwabali at his best, with the 27-year-old earning the man-of-the-match award for excellent stops during regulation and the penalty shootout.
Positioned to be named the tournament’s best goalkeeper, Nwabali has been a key piece in Nigeria’s defensive success.
Lookman has been a a tireless warrior in coach Jose Peseiro’s tactical scheme, displaying an adaptability and grit many never knew he had.
Sacrificing attacking instincts, he contributed significantly to team defence and organization.
The forward, in his AFCON debut, is currently Nigeria’s top scorer with three goals and an assist.
Lookman’s work rate, key passes, and prolific crossing set him apart.
In a formation demanding more from attacking players, Lookman has impressed, reinforcing his reputation as a big-game player.
Stepping into the void left by Wilfred Ndidi’s injury, Onyeka solidified Nigeria’s midfield with tenacity and skill.
His exceptional work rate, ball-winning ability, and relentless disruption of opponents’ build-up play set the tone for the team.
With only Bassey ahead in tackles won, Onyeka is leading in interceptions, proving his mettle in his first major tournament as a regular starter.
A midfield dynamo, he epitomizes grit and determination.
As the Super Eagles prepare for the final, the collective brilliance of Troost-Ekong, Osimhen, Nwabali, Lookman, and Onyeka is a testament to Nigeria’s success in AFCON 2023.