AFCON 2023 Qualifiers: Osimhen’s brilliance prevails for the Super Eagles but defensive weakness poses questions

AFCON 2023 Qualifiers: Osimhen’s brilliance prevails for the Super Eagles but defensive weakness poses questions

The Super Eagles of Nigeria booked their spot in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations after their narrow 3-2 win over Sierra Leone in the penultimate round of the qualifiers on Sunday.

It looked like it was going to be a routine win for Jose Peseiro’s men when Victor Osimhen scored a first half brace in the space of 13 minutes but once Sierra Leone pegged one back through Mustapha Bundu towards the end of the first half, Nigeria struggled to hold on to their lead and allowed John Keister’s men to level via August Kargbo with just few minutes to the end of regulation time.

Kelechi Iheanacho might have guaranteed all three points with his winner in injury time, but the entire performance is not something Nigerian fans back home will be totally pleased with.

The major pleasing outcome was Osimhen’s brace which illustrated he is still the man to lead the Super Eagles’ frontline. The 24-year-old before Sunday had not scored since the 10-0 bashing of Sao Tome and Principe last June when he netted four goals and provided two assists. While Osimhen was firing on a steady for Napoli, he found it hard to find the back of the net for Nigeria, wasting so many chances in the double header against Guinea-Bissau.

His brace in Monrovia however took him to seven goals in the qualifiers and now leads the goalscorers charts. It also took him to 17 international goals in 26 appearances, moving him above Odion Ighalo and Ahmed Musa to joint-sixth on the all-time top scorer’s list, and leaving him 20 goals shy of the late Rashidi Yekini’s tally (37) as the nation’s all-time top scorer.

Considering Osimhen’s age and the fact that he has scored 17 goals in just six years with a goal ratio (0.68) that is the highest of any player in the top 10 all-time scorer’s list, if he continues at that pace, he is well on course to surpass the revered and legendary Yekini.

This is a testament to the positive trajectory Osimhen’s career is going at the moment and the prospect of the amazing things he can achieve at both club and national level. With everything going his way, Osimhen is not just the pride of Nigeria but the entire African continent.

One side not showing any pride at all is the Nigerian backline. The defence of made up of Zaidu Sanusi, Kenneth Omeruo, Semi Ajayi and Bright Osayi-Samuel were at their sixes and sevens collectively in Monrovia and it allowed Sierra Leone to find a way back.

Only Hapoel Jerusalem goalkeeper Adebayo Adeleye was the bright spark, making some brilliant saves to deny the Leone Stars. If the backline were more organised, perhaps the 23-year-old shot stopper would not have seen need to make many saves and could have kept a clean sheet on his senior national team debut. Speaking of clean sheets, Nigeria have kept Just two clean sheets in the qualifiers so far and that is a far cry for a team that should sting fear in the hearts of the other opponents.

Even on the bench, Kevin Akpoguma, Calvin Bassey and William Troost-Ekong were the avaliable options and it has raised concern on the need for better stock of players that can do better in the green shirt. Midfield lynchpin Wilfred Ndidi was also off and far from the highly-rated player he is known to be.

The greater concern is that even though Nigeria have made it to the AFCON finals for the 20th time, it might not be a smooth outing if the defensive displays are still all over the place.

It would potentially leave the quest for a fourth AFCON title to linger much longer and that is something the very-demanding fans might not be ready to accept.

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