Ademola Lookman scored his third goal of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, and Moses Simon, who assisted him, was named Man of the Match as Nigeria advanced to the semifinals with a 1-0 victory against Angola.
Simon’s cunning and offensive abilities got him this well-deserved award. His speed to go past his marker, skill to slip inside of him, balance to stay upright, and vision to realise that Victor Osimhen had peeled away two defenders before laying the ball off to the oncoming Lookman were all confirmation of this pudding.
Côte d’Ivoire, who had beaten them many times in the competition, were eliminated in the group round. Guinea Bissau also came to Nigeria and humiliated the Eagles in front of their home fans. Then there was Cameroon, who inflicted a slew of serious cuts on the Super Eagles during Afcon Finals games.
Angola was next on the list. One of the Super Eagles’ most heartbreaking moments occurred in 2005, when they were denied a World Cup ticket by the Palancas Negras, and this was a genuine score that they needed to settle, as they had not met since then.
So, in defeating the Antelopes and depriving them a first-ever AFCON semifinal appearance, the Super Eagles Class of 2024 felt a sense of accomplishment for their forebears.
Angola were also the opponents when Nigeria player Samuel Okwaraji fell and died during a 1990 World Cup qualifier in Lagos in August 1989. This triumph, in some ways, acted as a tribute to the slain hero.
During his pre-match news conference, Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro expressed his faith and belief in everyone of his players, saying he hoped he could play them all. His actions during the tournament, however, belie that assertion.
The Portuguese manager didn’t make his first substitute until the 80th minute, when Angola had already made four. Alhassan Yusuf replaced Alex Iwobi, who was already misplacing passes due to exhaustion. His next substitution was Joe Aribo for Frank Onyeka, which took another seven minutes.
Victor Osimhen, who appeared so lanky that he was leaning over, was not replaced until the 90th minute.
If Peseiro claims to trust his players, relying on his starting 11 for so long in a game when he has quality substitutes contradicts that statement. He needs to give others an opportunity to play more substantial minutes. Unless he doesn’t trust them to handle the game when the lead is tiny, as his actions indicate.