Because the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) kicks off in Ivory Coast this weekend, few gamers will likely be underneath the highlight as a lot as Victor Osimhen.
Regardless of solely just lately turning 25, the Nigeria striker is central to the Tremendous Eagles’ hopes of a fourth continental triumph, a distinction he seeks to cap a steep rise in his profile over the past 18 months.
Since breaking out as a star on the under-17 World Cup in 2015 by ending as prime scorer, Osimhen has borne comparisons with a few of Nigeria’s greats, from Rashidi Yekini to Nwankwo Kanu.
In main Napoli to title success in Serie A – the Italian prime flight – final season and changing into the primary Nigerian to win the Confederation of African Soccer (CAF) Participant of the Yr for twenty-four years, he has begun to justify some expectations. In December, Osimhen additionally secured prime 12 finishes within the Ballon d’Or and FIFA The Greatest awards, cementing a popularity as one of many deadliest finishers in world soccer.
Nonetheless, the springy ahead believes there may be extra to return.
“It’s a enormous honour to be in comparison with a few of our legends,” he tells Al Jazeera. “It motivates me quite a bit. However what motivates me extra is making my very own means, attaining my very own targets.”
Inside soccer, there may be little doubt that he’s able to doing exactly that. Emmanuel Adebayor and Didier Drogba, each former African Footballer of the Yr winners and international footballing icons, have spoken extremely of the Nigeria worldwide, touting him for a transfer to the Premier League in England.
The switch market agrees: curiosity in Osimhen was so fierce that Napoli moved, following protracted negotiations, to signal him on to an extension till 2026, eager to keep away from the lack of their headline asset.
Victor Osimhen, one of the crucial thrilling forwards on the earth in the meanwhile [Filippo Monteforte/AFP] (AFP)
‘Quite a lot of accountability’
Having confirmed himself at membership stage, consideration now shifts to him at AFCON, the place Nigeria will face maybe the strongest discipline – there are not any debutants on this 12 months’s version – the competitors has ever seen.
On paper, the Tremendous Eagles have top-of-the-line squads in Ivory Coast, a proven fact that, regardless of poor latest outcomes and performances, just isn’t misplaced on Osimhen.
“We’ve a really sturdy workforce, filled with gamers with expertise and expertise,” he says. “Throughout Europe, we’ve got gamers in all the highest groups displaying nice kind. We additionally get alongside very well: I’m associates personally with numerous them. Our spirit is powerful.”
Regardless of that energy in depth and workforce ethos, Nigeria go into the AFCON with a cloud hanging over them. Coach Jose Peseiro divides public opinion and has solely gained six of his 14 matches since taking cost of the workforce. The Tremendous Eagles opened their 2026 World Cup qualifying marketing campaign with consecutive attracts towards Lesotho and Zimbabwe, and there stays a scarcity of readability over who the workforce’s beginning goalkeeper is.
The onus, due to this fact, is on the assault: if Nigeria is to equal its championship-winning performances of 1980, 1994, and 2013, it will likely be on the again of Osimhen’s targets. Different attackers like Bayer Leverkusen’s Victor Boniface and Actual Sociedad’s Umar Sadiq have withdrawn from the squad resulting from accidents.
Having missed out on the final version of the competitors two years prior, he feels the necessity to make up for misplaced time; for all his success at membership stage and in qualifying matches for the Tremendous Eagles, Osimhen has but to headline a serious worldwide event at senior stage.
“Like I’ve stated earlier than, if I by no means win the AFCON for Nigeria, individuals will query me,” he says. “And it might be justified: there may be numerous accountability on me. I do know that, and I’m not working away from it.
Nigerian writer and Tremendous Eagles fan Joshua Omojuwa thinks he’ll ship as anticipated: “Osimhen has confirmed to be a dependable striker by the years … if the workforce performs to reinforce his strengths, he’d simply win prime scorer of the event and presumably even lead Nigeria to the ultimate.”
— ?? Tremendous Eagles (@NGSuperEagles) January 10, 2024
‘Determined’ for the large prize
The Tremendous Eagles kick off their marketing campaign towards Equatorial Guinea on January 14, and can then face the host nation Ivory Coast and underdogs Guinea-Bissau – to whom they misplaced in qualifying – on January 18 and 22 respectively.
Nigeria has not did not progress from the group stage at an AFCON since 1982; it has additionally gained 4 silver medals and eight bronze.
Nevertheless, since 2019’s bronze medal end, their followers have had little to smile about. However, many Nigerians at house and within the diaspora are supporting the squad to carry out nicely on the event, led by their star striker.
“There’s numerous weight on his shoulders, little doubt, however the subsequent few weeks will likely be his greatest moments in a Tremendous Eagles shirt,” says Abuja-based Tunde Sawyerr, a longstanding Tremendous Eagles fan. “His supporting forged and the way a lot Peseiro is ready to maximise Osimhen’s well-known talents and deploy essentially the most appropriate ways will make all of the distinction.”
To that, Osimhen says this crop of gamers is “determined” for the large prize and can carry out towards all odds.
“We wish to win each match, each trophy obtainable, to make Nigerians happy with us once more. Our coaches have some new concepts to assist us get there, and if we work collectively as a workforce, something is feasible,” he instructed Al Jazeera.
“I wish to win the AFCON with my nation and write my very own legacy. All of the greats in Nigeria have a title to their title and to be talked about in that area I need to win it, too.”