This player, not Osimhen, was Nigeria’s AFCON 2023 best player

This player, not Osimhen, was Nigeria’s AFCON 2023 best player
Photo by Icon Sport

It was a limp performance by the Super Eagles in the final of AFCON 2023, with Victor Osimhen failing to deliver on the big stage.

The Super Eagles had a thrilling AFCON 2023 despite few people giving them any chance of going far in the tournament.

The pre-tournament performance by the team did not give many people confidence in the team, though they had the African Footballer of the Year – Osimhen.

After seven gruelling matches in about four weeks, the Super Eagles, led by their talisman Osimhen, reached the final but seemed to have exhausted their battery life as they caved into the Elephants of Ivory Coast.

Many thought Osimhen would drive the Super Eagles to glory, but the Napoli striker managed just one goal in the tournament and came up short in the most vital game.

William Troost-Ekong, not Osimhen, is Super Eagles most valuable player

Ekong not Osimhen is Super Eagles best player
Photo by Icon Sport

Despite the disappointing loss to Ivory Coast in the AFCON 2023 final by the Super Eagles, no one can deny it was a jolly ride, as the Nigerian side took its fans on a roller coaster of emotions in their quest for a fourth title.

There was plenty of effort from the team, and each player contributed immensely towards winning the tournament.

Osimhen scored his only goal for the Super Eagles in the opening game against Equatorial Guinea. Despite his lack of goals, his efforts opened spaces for Ademola Lookman, Moses Simon and Samuel Chukwueze to shine.

In midfield, Alex Iwobi played an unfamiliar role, and though he received stick, he gave a good account of himself. He partnered well with Frank Onyeka, who played out of his socks.

By the semi-final, both midfielders were running on fumes and Peseiro's lethargy in understanding this is why Nigeria lost 2-1 in the final.

The player who remained consistent from the beginning of the tournament to the end is William Troost-Ekong. He was the unsung hero of the Super Eagles.

The captain led his troops well and contributed three goals to the cause.

He was the highest-scoring defender at AFCON 2023 and the joint-fourth top scorer at the tournament alongside Ademola Lookman, Baghdad Bounedjah, Bertrand Traore, Lassine Sinayoko, Mabululu and Mohamed Lamine Bayo.

The consistency of the PAOK defender is why the defence conceded few goals at the tournament and is attracting interest from Saudi Arabia.

Other players who were committed to the cause

Nigeria vs Ivory Coast Osimhen missing
Credit: Icon Sport

While Osimhen worked tirelessly in the tournament to ensure the Super Eagles won it, other players were also committed.

Ola Aina had a tremendous tournament. He was solid at the back and aided the attack well. The Nottingham Forest full-back was also a threat from long throws.

Zaidu Sanusi, Semi Ajayi and Calvin Bassey put in a tight shift as they ensured that the Super Eagles maintained a mean defence.

Stanley Nwabali was the revelation of the tournament. The Chippa United goalkeeper helped the team put behind the mistakes of Francis Uzoho and give Nigeria hope for a brighter future.

Osimhen was guilty of missing several chances and running foul of the offside rule several times, but his work ethic and rate were astounding.

Osimhen was tireless throughout the tournament, but the leadership qualities of Ekong, his commanding presence and his ability to rally the troops made him exemplary. When his availability for the Angolan tie was dicey, Nigerians were worried.

Ekong also scored the penalty against South Africa on their way to the final.

It is little wonder he was named player of the tournament.

This article was most recently revised and updated 1 week ago

Chooka Izuegbuna is a Sports Journalist with 20 years of experience in print, TV and Radio. He has worked with some of the top media houses in Nigeria, including NTA Network, Channels TV, TVC, Silverbird TV and MITV. Chooka broke his sports reporting teeth with The Game Football Weekly in 2003 as a cartoonist and reporter.