Victor Osimhen vows to make up for Nigeria World Cup heartache at Africa Cup of Nations

Super Eagles missed out on qualification for the 2022 World Cup, but Napoli striker determined to bring joy back to supporters

Victor Osimhen recently edged out Egypt's Mohamed Salah to be crowned African Player of the Year. AFP
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Newly crowned African Player of the Year Victor Osimhen hopes to turn the suffering of Nigerian supporters into joy with an Africa Cup of Nations title.

The Napoli forward beat Egypt's Mohamed Salah and Morocco's Achraf Hakimi to become the first Nigerian winner of the player award since Nwankwo Kanu in 1999.

It was a reward for helping his club to a first Italian title in 33 years and also scoring consistently for the Super Eagles.

But amid the successes there was also sadness for the 24-year-old, who sold newspapers and bottles of water in the bustling streets of Lagos as a teenager to eke out a living.

The day that has haunted Osimhen for a long time was March 29, 2022, at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Earlier, Nigeria travelled to long-time regional rivals Ghana and drew 0-0 in the first of two matches to decide whether the Black Stars of Super Eagles would qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

As Nigerian supporters flocked to the national stadium expectations were high that the home team would use that advantage to good effect and secure a place at the finals in Qatar.

But those dreams were shattered as Ghana drew 1-1 to qualify on away goals and deprive Osimhen and his teammates of a place on the global stage.

"We could not have asked for more from our supporters in Abuja that night," recalled Osimhen to reporters before leaving Italy to join the Cup of Nations squad.

"They roared us on from the first whistle to the last. The noise they created was deafening. but we let them down and that hurt. Nigerians deserved better."

Now Osimhen believes he has the perfect antidote to the lingering suffering of supporters – Nigeria must win the biennial Cup of Nations a fourth time.

The Super Eagles triumphed at home in 1980, slamming three unanswered goals past Algeria, then edged Zambia 2-1 in Tunis in 1994 and Burkina Faso 1-0 in Johannesburg in 2013.

Since overcoming the Burkinabe, Nigeria have been on an Afcon rollercoaster, failing to qualify in 2015 and 2017, finishing third in 2019 and making a last-16 departure two years ago.

Paired with Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea in the first round in Group A, Nigeria are expected to contest first place with the hosts.

Teams finishing first and second in each group are guaranteed knockout-stage places and the four best-ranked of the six third-placed sides also progress.

"We are capable of winning this tournament because the squad is packed with players who are performing exceptionally well for their European clubs," says Osimhen.

"All of us are desperate to make up for failing to reach the 2022 World Cup. The only way we can achieve that goal is by wining the Cup of Nations."

Nigeria's chances were dealt a blow with the news that Victor Boniface is likely to miss Afcon 2023 after suffering a groin injury while training.

The 23-year-old Bayer Leverkusen striker was sidelined for his country's final warm-up friendly against Guinea on Monday and local media reported that he will be out for up to six weeks.

"Good luck guys. Wish you guys all the best at afcon @ng_supereagles," Boniface wrote on his Instagram account.

He is Bundesliga leaders Leverkusen's top scorer, netting 10 goals in 16 league games this season.

Updated: January 09, 2024, 12:20 PM