Akpom of Ajax, Orban of Gent: 7 absent from Super Eagles' 2023 AFCON squad

Posted : 20 December 2023

Super Eagles head coach Jose Peseiro and the Nigeria Football Federation have submitted a 40-man roster to the Confederation of African Football ahead of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

Notable suspects like Victor Osimhen, Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Francis Uzoho, among others, feature prominently on the list. However, several exciting talents missed out on the list and will wait for another two years to make an appearance on the continent’s biggest football fiesta.

Here are highlights of seven top stars who would be disappointed to miss the 36th edition of the AFCON. Only one or two Nigerian strikers can boast of scoring more goals than Akpom over the past 18 months.

Akpom smashed 28 league goals for Middlesbrough last season and has eight in his last ten games for Ajax this term.

The 28-year-old former Arsenal man knows how to smash them into the net: headers, right-footed drives, left-footed tap-ins, name them.

His versatility is also interesting as he impresses both as a centre-forward or in that small pocket of space behind the main striker. However, Peseiro’s plans, sadly, do not include the Ajax forward. One of the revelations of 2023, Orban is destined for a bright future in the game.

A consummate goalscorer, the youngster jumped from relative obscurity into the transfer wishlist of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Eintracht Frankfurt, Barcelona, and Tottenham Hotspur.

The reason for that is not far-fetched. Orban netted the fastest hat-trick in the history of all European club competitions and has more hat-trick this year than Manchester City’s Erling Haaland.

Orban caught Peseiro’s attention, and the Portuguese tactician invited him to the national team setup in October.

However, his case with the Togo federation over his nationality, which stopped him from making his Super Eagles debut, may have also hampered his AFCON inclusion. No player in Europe’s major leagues has managed more goals than Akor Adams this season.

The 23-year-old forward scored 15 goals in as many Eliteserien games for Lillestrøm before moving to Montpellier to net seven Ligue 1 goals, bringing his tally to 22.

Bayern Munich’s Harry Kane has 20, Al-Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo and PSG’s Kylian Mbappé have 16 each, while Haaland boasts 14.

Adams’ excellent performances have attracted attention from West Ham United and AC Milan, and both could make a move for him during the winter transfer window.

However, all those ratings did little to convince Peseiro that Adams merited a spot on the Nigerian team to Ivory Coast. In two years, Maduka Okoye went from being a goalkeeper for Fortuna Düsseldorf reserve team in the German fourth division to being the number-one shot-stopper for Sparta Rotterdam and the Super Eagles.

He was Augustine Eguavoen’s first-choice goalie for the Super Eagles at the 2021 AFCON.

Sadly, that tournament, which was to be the major highlight of his career, was where his troubles began.

Okoye allowed Youssef Msakni’s long-range shot to slip past him to hand Tunisia the winner that knocked Nigeria out of Cameroon 2021. He has not played a game for Nigeria since that error.

His fortunes did not improve at club level as he was deemed surplus to requirements at Watford and is yet to make his Serie A debut for Udinese.

In his stead, Peseiro has given opportunities to three NPFL goalkeepers, who will challenge Francis Uzoho and Adebayo Adeleye for the number-one spot. Chidera Ejuke was also in the Super Eagles squad at the last edition of the AFCON in Cameroon, but he struggles to nail a shirt down in the national team.

He is Nigeria’s best dribbler in Europe by some distance.

He was among the best performers as Antwerp secured a memorable victory over Barcelona on matchday six of the UEFA Champions League.

The former CSKA Moscow dazzler has added more end product to his dribbling recently, scoring two goals in his last four league matches in Belgium.

Ejuke’s creativity would have added a different dimension to the Super Eagles’ attack in Ivory Coast, but Peseiro knows best. By far the best full-back in the Nigeria Professional Football League, Ismail Sodiq has a wide range of weapons in his arsenal.

Excellent going forward and committed in defence, Sodiq has nine assists already in the league this season.

His contribution has been crucial to helping league leaders Remo Stars boast the best attack and the joint sixth-best defence in the elite division.

While Nottingham Forest’s Ola Aina and Fenerbahce’s Bright Osayi-Samuel are no slouch, Nigeria would not have missed one of them with Sodiq in the squad. One of Nigeria’s best defenders in Europe, it is a shame that Ogbu is yet to make his Super Eagles debut.

The former Flying Eagles centre-back only joined Slavia Prague in January, but he has become a permanent feature in the starting lineup for the Czech Republic giants.

With Ogbu, Slavia have only lost one game in the league, while he has also been brilliant in the Europa League, appearing in the Team of the Week once.

Ogbu’s best display came against Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma last month, a game Slavia won and kept a clean sheet.

He may have missed AFCON 2023, but it appears only a matter of time before the 23-year-old no-nonsense tackler becomes the pillar of the Super Eagles defence.


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