In this report, PUNCH Sports Extra’s JOHNNY EDWARD takes a look at the Super Eagles stars who need to up their game ahead of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Ivory Coast
Samuel Chukwueze (AC Milan)
Chukwueze has struggled to produce his best form at international level for Nigeria lately and his place in the current Super Eagles squad has come under threat with the arrival of Bayer Leverkusen winger Nathan Tella who is capable of playing either out wide or through the middle.
The 24-year-old’s recent poor form has being down to the slow start to his career at AC Milan and the hamstring injury he sustained while in action for Nigeria against Saudi Arabia on October 13.
It’s going to be a huge ask for Chukwueze to find his best form with the bit-part role he has been playing at Milan but his hopes of playing at the AFCON may rest on his form in this month’s fixtures. Despite his huge potential, the former Villareal winger has only scored four times in 28 games for the Eagles since he made his debut in 2019.
Sadiq Umar (Real Sociedad)
Umar failed to justify his Eagles recall with a poor display against Mozambique in last month’s friendly in Portugal where he missed a sitter in the encounter after coming on for Fisayo Dele-Bashiru just after the hour mark.
The striker, who now mainly starts from the bench at Real Sociedad since his return from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, is still yet to score after 12 appearances so far this term providing one assist in 307 minutes of action across all competitions.
Many Nigerians where shocked to see him picked by coach Jose Peseiro ahead of Montpellier striker Akor Adams for the Eagles 2026 World Cup qualifier against Lesotho and Zimbabwe.
Adams has scored seven goals in Ligue 1 not to mention 15 goals in Norway earlier this year. Umar got his biggest chance to shine with the Eagles at the delayed 2021 AFCON in Cameroon and he did not take it. Little wonder he has only one goal in nine games for the three time African champions.
Joe Aribo (Southampton)
Since making a brilliant start to his Eagles career scoring two goals in his first two games for Nigeria, Joe Aribo has not looked like the player many predicted he would become after taking up the No.10 jersey in 2019.
Aribo was tipped to salvage a threadbare midfield that has struggled to bring out the best from one of the most feared attack around the world but he has only two assists for the Eagles and he is currently on a of in 21-game goal drought.
At club level, Aribo has been consigned to the substitute’s bench in four of his Southampton’s last five matches, playing a mere 21 minutes against Birmingham City on October 28.
The midfielder was equally anonymous in last month’s friendlies against Saudi Arabia and Mozambique in Portugal. He needs to improve on his game to keep his game before he Peseiro’s loyalty to him wanes out.
William Troost-Ekong (PAOK)
Troost-Ekong was a notable absentee from the Eagles squad for their opening 2026 World Cup qualifiers against Lesotho and Zimbabwe despite enjoying a new lease of playing time with his Greek club, PAOK Salonica.
The 28-year-old, who last played for Nigeria in their 4-0 defeat to Portugal exactly a year ago (November 11, 2022), has since fallen out of favour with Peseiro. Though he was included in the team’s AFCON qualifiers against Sierra Leone and Sao Tome and Príncipe in August, Troost-Ekong will need to do more to dislodge Peseiro’s current centre-back pairing of Semi Ajayi and Calvin Bassey. With Kenneth Omeruo and Chidozie Awaziem back in contention, Troost-Ekong’s days in the Eagles may be winding up.
Francis Uzoho (Omonia)
Many have still not forgiven Francis Uzoho for his slow reaction to an innocuous Thomas Partey shot in Abuja last year, which cost the Eagles the ticket to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Despite that, Uzoho’s constant blunders in goal came to the fore last month when the Eagles played out a 2-2 draw against Saudi Arabia before scrapping past Mozambique 3-2 in their second friendly game. Against the Saudis, Uzoho audaciously palmed a harmless ball into his own net, while against the Mozambicans, the Mambas scored early on after the keeper failed to keep out a weak attempt by Gent Cipriano following a square ball into the Nigerian box.
His erratic display and repeated howlers in goal for both games call for concern ahead of the AFCON in January.
Since making his debut, Uzoho has conceded 22 goals in 14 friendly games, keeping only two clean sheets, while overall, the Omonia Nicosia keeper has only 12 clean sheets from 32 games, conceding a total of 33 goals.
Maduka Okoye (Udinese)
Okoye was Nigeria’s first choice for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon but after coming under severe attack from fans for his mistake in Nigeria’s exit at the tournament, his international career has nose-dived.
The Udinese goalie failed to save Youssef Msakni’s long-range strike two minutes after the break as Tunisia booked a place in the quarter-finals of the tournament at the expense of Nigeria, who were tagged favourites ahead of the encounter, after winning all their three group games.
The 23-year-old also came under scathing criticisms again from fans following his error in Nigeria’s 2-2 draw against Algeria’s B team in September 2022. Despite making an impressive debut in Udinese’s 2-1 defeat to Cagliari, where he made seven saves, Okoye is yet to regain public trust and self-belief