Super Eagles AFCON defence: This team is yet to inspire confidence

When you place the Super Eagles defenders in this year’s AFCON with what the team has had years back, it will be hard to fathom why the defensive quality has dropped.

Between the AFCONs of 1976 and 1980, the Eagles had David Adiele, Patrick Ekeji, Tunde Bamidele, Christian Chukwu, Godwin Odiye and Okey Isima as defensive cover.

In most of the 80s, it was Yisa Sofoluwe, Bright Omokaro, Stephen Keshi, and Sunday Eboigbe, all top players.

Nigeria also had the luxury of Okechukwu Uche, Taribo West, Austin Eguavoen, and Celestine Babayaro in defense for the Eagles, but these days, and especially for the AFCON 2023, Nigerians are not too confident with the personnel at the rear end of the team.

Mathew Edafe, the CEO of Elegbete Radio and TV, himself a former footballer believes no defence can be confident without a good goalkeeper.

“No matter how solid a defence is, be it Fabio Capello’s, Jose Mourinho’s or whomever, a good goalkeeper will complement the defence,” Mathew Edafe told

“We have not been able to weave the defence into a unit. Also, the mere fact that no opposition in Africa fears Nigeria is an issue.”

“Teams will just sit back, knowing they do not need ten chances to score against Nigeria, but one or two.”

So, who starts in defence for the Eagles?

Bright Osayi Samuel

Looking at the defenders going to the AFCON, Edafe gives credit to the fullbacks, though he frowns at what Nigeria has at the center.

“The fullbacks are really fantastic, but it is in Center back I have an issue.”

Lagos, Nigeria-based football writer Ikenwa Nnabuogor agrees that Nigeria’s fullbacks are decent but there is a problem at the center.

“We have not had the best of legs in any department in this team, apart from the attack, but my top choice in defence has to be Bright Osayi Samuel,” Nnabuogor told

“If you remember his debut game was the massacre against Portugal in that pre-World Cup friendly, but he was the the only shining light on the day.

Bright Osayi Samuel is quite comfortable running the wings, he runs well, recovers well, has speed, shows a bit more intelligence than Ola Aina, is comfortable with the ball at his feet, joins the attack and scores too.

“He is a good addition to the team and should win the slot at right back,” Edafe said.

At left back, Bruno Onyemaechi runs the wings well, though his crosses have not been top-notch.

“Nothing beats a Celestine Babayaro in left back, but from what I have seen so far, he is not a bad addition to the team,” Mathew Edafe says.

However, Edafe will choose Zaidu Sanusi over Bruno for his experience.

“If he is fit he is good to go, he does his job defensively. He is not too solid, but he does his job fairly well.”

From Chairman, Big Boss to this?

Calvin Bassey

There was a time when Nigerians could go to sleep over the defenders in the National Team. Names like Christian Chukwu, Tunde Bamidele, Stephen Keshi, Sunday Eboigbe, Uche Okafor, Chidi Nwanu, Okechukwu Uche, Taribo West and Joseph Yobo come to mind.

Even the 2013 AFCON winning squad that did not have the best of individually talented defenders, still had a unit that played with their heart and soul- Godfrey Oboabona, Kenneth Omeruo, Elderson Echiejile and Efe Ambrose.

We have defenders heading into the AFCON who will only do well if the coach can deploy the right combination that will win games for him.

It is most likely that Jose Peseiro will go for Semi Ajayi and Calvin Bassey in the center of defence.

“Peseiro likes to play Bassey alongside Semi Ajayi, but the problem with those two is that they do not communicate. Semi is what we call an Ajebutter (soft) kind of player. Too quiet, while Bassey is like a street guy (tough) that sort of overdoes things,” Mathew Edafe adds.

“I do not think I will play Calvin Bassey in Center Back if I’m the coach. Yes, he does it at Fulham, but that is a different setting from the Eagles. Kenneth Omeruo would have been good, but who pairs with him?

“The skill and finesse of a player is important. If you do not have that, you need brute force and work rate, attributes that are not high up there in the current set-up,” Edafe said.

Ikenwa Nnabuogor suggests he would prefer Semi Ajayi and William Troost Ekong in Center Back, but still believes that Peserio would go for Semi and Bassey.

“Semi and Calvin have played together for some time but they haven’t struck the kind of chord we have known in the past. Remember Uche and Taribo, Keshi and Eboigbe, Chukwu and Odiye? You can’t compare those combos with what we have now, and this is where experience comes in,” Ikenwa Nnabuogor said.

“I think this is where calling Troost back is okay. So, who pairs with Troost Ekong? He organises his defence very well and is quite vocal so I will prefer Ekong and Semi.

“The problem with Bassey is that, though he plays regularly for Fulham, he has just one active foot. He is left for dead with the ball on his right. Semi is good on the ground and in the air but is slow on the ball.”

Semi Ajayi makes up for this with his marking, though he is always suspect against a fast attacker. Speed, or a lack if it is also the case for all four Center Backs in the team.

General chances of the team

Semi Ajayi

The problem with this team is that they do not work that hard as a unit. Their running and communication is poor.

“They play like children of stepmothers fighting for their father’s will, so there is little communication between them,” Edafe explains.

“I do not see this team going far. I have been following this team, and the ones I did not see because of my age, I read about them. This is by far the worst Super Eagles team. Let us not mince words, let us say it as it is. This team will not go far,” Nnabuogor declares.

And his reasons are that they are not playing well, and they have not always shown character.

“Even against the so-called minnows, we do not show character. It is that bad that these days, no team fears Nigeria.”

Cameroon’s coach, Claude Leroy was asked after the AFCON in 1988, why his team won the Cup, yet did not score more than a goal in any game they played. His response was quite comical.

He said he could only use players at his disposal and Cameroonian mothers did not give birth to good strikers that would score goals. He would rather blame Cameroonian mothers and not his tactics.

Maybe this is a case of Nigerian mothers not giving birth to good defenders any more.

A defence of Bright Osayi Samuel, Semi Ajayi, Calvin Bassey and Bruno Onyemaechi/ Zaidu Sanusi may just be Nigeria’s best to start, under the circumstances.

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