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How will the Super Eagles fare in the rest of Afcon 2023?

The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) is underway in Ivory Coast, and Nigeria’s Super Eagles are among the favorites to lift the trophy for the fourth time in their history. However, their campaign got off to a shaky start on Sunday, as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Equatorial Guinea in their opening Group A match.

The Super Eagles dominated the game in terms of possession, shots, and chances. Still, they were wasteful in front of goal and struggled to break down a resilient and well-organized Equatorial Guinea defense. The National Thunder, who are ranked 134th in the world, took a surprise lead in the 36th minute through Iban Salvador, who curled a superb shot from the edge of the box past Daniel Akpeyi. Nigeria responded quickly, as Victor Osimhen headed in the equalizer a minute later from a cross by Ademola Lookman.

The second half saw Nigeria pile on the pressure, but they were denied by several saves from Equatorial Guinea goalkeeper Jesus Owono, who was named the man of the match.

The result was a disappointment for Nigeria, who had high expectations after winning the 2019 edition in Egypt. The Super Eagles have a talented and experienced squad, led by Napoli striker Osimhen, who was voted the African Footballer of the Year in 2022. They also have a new coach in Jose Peseiro, who replaced Gernot Rohr in November 2022 after the latter resigned following Nigeria’s poor performance at the World Cup in Qatar, where they failed to advance from the group stage.

Nigeria will need to improve their finishing and creativity in their next two games, as they face tougher opponents in Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau. The Super Eagles will take on the hosts on Thursday, 18 January, in a crucial clash that could decide the fate of the group. Ivory Coast is the top seed in the group and has a strong squad featuring the likes of Seko Fofana, Wilfried Zaha, and Jean-Philippe Krasso. The Elephants started their campaign with a convincing 2-0 win over Guinea-Bissau on Saturday and will be confident of extending their unbeaten run against Nigeria, which dates back to 1994.

Nigeria will then face Guinea-Bissau on Sunday, 21 January, in their final group game. The Djurtus are the lowest-ranked team in the group and the tournament and are making their second appearance at Afcon after debuting in 2017. They lost their opening game to Ivory Coast, but they showed some resilience and spirit and could pose a threat to Nigeria if they are underestimated.

Nigeria will need to finish in the top two of their group, or as one of the four best third-placed teams, to qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament. The Super Eagles have a good record at Afcon, having reached the semi-finals in six of the last seven editions. They will hope to bounce back from their disappointing draw with Equatorial Guinea and show their true potential in the rest of the tournament. Nigeria have the quality and the experience to go all the way, but they will need to be more clinical and consistent if they want to lift the trophy for the fourth time in their history.

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