Africa Cup of Nations

Injuries are proving to be Nigeria's bane with Afcon imminent

13:00 SAST 2021/12/06
Victor Osimhen of Nigeria and Napoli.
The Super Eagles are already beset with multiple issues, and added injuries to key players make the Nations Cup a tougher prospect

It will not be wrong to suggest Nigerians’ enthusiasm for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations is on the wane, with the tournament starting in early January.

In truth, this appeared to be the case by the time Nigeria sealed progress to the playoff round in World Cup qualifying. The resentment with performances was prevalent before November’s fixtures and it seemed to grow after the Super Eagles played out a 2-0 win over Liberia in Tangier.

What has ensued since the final game with Cape Verde is laughable and emblematic of the second-rate preparation that often plagues the national team.

Depending on whose account you believe, the much-maligned Gernot Rohr has been sacked and all that remains is settling on the German tactician’s severance pay. Other outlets are reporting that the 68-year-old will remain in situ for next year’s Afcon!

Indeed, with less than 40 days to Nigeria’s opening game against Egypt, the managerial question remains. How has this been allowed to happen?

With an absence of a clear on-field direction and the perceived favouritism in selection, the latter exacerbated by the recall of Odion Ighalo and the reported return of Victor Moses, many observers were already on their last nerve.

It has not helped that a few of the nation’s key players have seemingly been out of form while some are not back to peak levels after varying layoffs with the continental showpiece to start next month.

William Troost-Ekong probably typifies the former category, with the Watford centre-back’s error-strewn showings in recent weeks particularly hard to watch.

Kelechi Iheanacho’s Leicester City situation is probably a source of frustration to the player himself.

Out in the cold since last month, mostly due to Brendan Rodgers’ ongoing preference for a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, he has had to watch on from the bench as the Foxes played out a 4-2 win over Watford and 2-2 draw against Southampton.

He was given four minutes against Aston Villa on Sunday.

The six-minute Europa League cameo against Legia Warsaw adds to the forward’s disappointment and ought to concern Nigerians who may have an unfit Seniorman whose confidence has taken a hit at Afcon.

With Samuel Chukwueze and Wilfred Ndidi still not 100 percent fit, the next month will undoubtedly be critical for the pair to work their way back to full fitness.

Through all the aforementioned challenges, the nation had Victor Osimhen…or so they thought.

The Napoli man had spearheaded the attack with his tenacity and intelligence of movement, almost feeding on little service most of the time, but still flourishing and remaining decisive.

Whenever he was in tip-top condition, the team broadly flourished, or, at the very least, there was hope. There was a sense that the West African nation could get results with him on the pitch, regardless of the humdrum showings.

When he was absent or his level dropped — the second-half against Cape Verde the recent case in point — the team appeared rudderless.

Thus, there was understandable anxiety when a clash of heads with Inter Milan’s Milan Skriniar forced off the striker against the Nerazzurri and worst fears were realised when it was revealed the facial injuries would keep him out of next year’s showpiece.

As spanner in the works go, this represents the biggest setback to the Super Eagles’ chances.

Of course, the obvious retort is to list the swathe of attacking talent available to the West African nation, not least Emmanuel Dennis, Taiwo Awoniyi, Terem Moffi and Umar Sadiq, but there is a growing sentiment these potential replacements will be ignored for a starting berth anyway, with Ighalo likely to lead the line in Cameroon.

Nigerians were handed another scare when Maduka Okoye was forced off after 24 minutes against Ajax with a suspected shoulder injury last Sunday, although the Sparta Rotterdam goalkeeper has since allayed fears to its severity.

Having endured a torrid time finding a replacement to fill the Vincent Enyeama void, Okoye had proven to be capable hands between the sticks.

Losing him after the Osimhen blow would have been hard to swallow.

Yet, the last week has shown how delicate the situation is for Nigeria heading to Cameroon.

The next month and a bit will undoubtedly be fraught with anxiety as fans of the Super Eagles hope every player maintains a clean bill of health.