AFCON 2023: Should Nigeria start Victor Osimhen against Cote d’Ivoire in light of striker’s wastefulness?

After the opening-day draw with Equatorial Guinea, the spotlight falls sharply on Nigeria’s next Group A game against no other than Cote d’Ivoire, excellent hosts of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

The past few hours have seen the attention of many Nigerian fans dwell on the fitness of Alhassan Yusuf, the arrival of OGC Nice forward Terem Moffi to Super Eagles’ camp, and the team meeting conjured by captains Ahmed Musa and William Troost-Ekong towards improving team performance ahead of the clash against the Elephants.

However, a key question no one wants to ask looms: should Victor Osimhen start versus Cote d’Ivoire following his subpar performance against Equatorial Guinea?

As the reigning African Footballer of the Year and indisputably Nigeria’s best player, Osimhen’s underwhelming form in the opening clash has ignited debate.

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Despite salvaging a 1-1 draw with his 38th-minute equaliser, the Napoli striker’s missed opportunities are hard to ignore.

Osimhen fired six shots against the National Thunder but scored just one goal.

Symbolising Nigeria’s wastefulness in the encounter, Osimhen had four of his six attempts go off-target, and two of his misses will be hard to forget for a while.

In the first instant, Osimhen showed his speed of thought and awareness to set himself in a one-on-one situation with Equatorial Guinea’s goalkeeper Jesus Owono. Still, the Deportivo Alaves goalkeeper made a crucial block save.

In the second situation, Osimhen raced on to a brilliant Alex Iwobi through-ball but fired an errant shot wide when he had only Owono to beat to leave fans stunned.

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Stats don’t lie – completing only one pass out of seven and straying offside three times, Osimhen did not exhibit the sharpness expected from a player of his caliber.

As Nigeria face a must-win situation against Cote d’Ivoire, the question emerges: should Osimhen be benched?

Nigeria’s attack harbours alternatives.

Paul Onuachu, in stellar form for Trabzonspor before departing for the AFCON, is a potent option.

With a proven track record in Denmark and Belgium, Onuachu’s finishing instinct in the box could unsettle the Ivorian defence.

With his height advantage and nose for loose balls in the danger area, the Southampton loanee has what it takes to set the AFCON ablaze with goals.

Another attacker who can keep Osimhen on the bench is Kelechi Iheanacho.

Although battling fitness concerns, the Leicester City forward boasts an impressive chance-to-goal ratio. If deemed fit, his danger in and around the box could prove invaluable.

There is also OGC Nice’s striker Terem Moffi, who has a clean ball-striking ability, is adept at link-up play, and adds another dimension to Nigeria’s attacking arsenal. 

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Any of Onuachu, Iheanacho, or Moffi could also be deployed alongside Osimhen to give Nigeria a more dangerous presence in the Ivorian penalty area.

Ultimately, the decision on who makes the starting lineup rests with head coach Jose Peseiro.

Whether Osimhen starts or not, the chosen striker must embody a fighting spirit and be adept at creating and finishing chances.

The narrative of Nigeria’s AFCON journey pivots on the man who leads the line, and a victory against Cote d’Ivoire hinges on making the right choice.

The stage is set; the decision must be strategic and resolute.

Note: Who should lead Nigeria’s attack against Cote d’Ivoire: Osimhen, Onuachu, Iheanacho or Moffi? Leave your answers in the comment section below.