Nigeria's AFCON 2023 finals defeat to Ivory Coast: Unraveling the factors behind the loss


Debates and speculations have been raised as to why the AFCON 2023 finals fixture Nigeria vs Ivory Coast did not live up to the expectations of many with Cote d'Ivoire picking up the winning goal before the end of 90 minutes.

With the final result in and nerves settled, we have analyzed how the fixture Nigeria vs Ivory Coast had gone and here are the key observations we made as to why the Super Eagles who had given it their all in the entire AFCON 2023 tournament had not secured the victory and their first title in over 10 years.

What went wrong for the Super Eagles of Nigeria in the finals of AFCON 2023?

Exhaustion and poor man management

Nigeria Records AFCON 2023
The Super Eagles of Nigeria at AFCON 2023

One major catalyst we identified as the main reason the Super Eagles were not at 100 percent in the game was the fact that the players who have put in incredible shifts all through the competition in a formation that demands times two of their usual efforts were exhausted for a better part of the game.

This was not a new observation as the signs had begun to show in the semi-final victory over South Africa where we saw the boys play an extra 30 minutes before going to penalties and picking up the win from the shootouts.

For many who are familiar with the fact that a formation that requires key players to put in extra shifts and perform as pivots, exhaustion after constant use of the same set of players game in and game out is entirely possible.

Antonio Conte's formation at Chelsea and Tottenham is a prime example of such a situation as Chelsea suffered in the second season after the arrival of the Italian coach who relied heavily on his wingers with a 3-man defence line and so did key players such as Son Heuing-Min and Richarlison for Spurs

For Nigeria at AFCON, there was a heavy reliance on the wingbacks with the midfield line sitting in deep and functioning as defenders and sometimes wingers if needed. Performing these roles in harsh weather conditions and with the same set of players can lead to exhaustion and affect the overall performance of the entire team a side effect we saw in the finals of the fixture.

The head coach Peseiro could have retained the same formation but with changes made in terms of personnel in positions that require extra efforts on the pitch to ensure the effectiveness of the formation itself. With players like Terem Moffi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Bruno, Aribo and many more all available on the bench, a change in key roles could have been efficient in providing support for the team.

The Ivory Coast interim coach mentioned this after the match as he stated that they noticed that the Super Eagles of Nigeria stars were tired and were not in the best of shapes and as such he advised the team to capitalize on that.

Fae in the post-match statement revealed, "We noticed the Nigerian players were tired in the first half. They were not at their usual best.”

Lack of tactical flexibility

AFCON 2023 Guinea-Bissau vs Nigeria starting lineups
Super Eagles vs Equatorial Guinea [ X/@Poojamedia]

It is important for a team, a top side to be more precise to possess tactical flexibility that can see them adapt to any situation in any fixture. Tactical flexibility allows you to be able to adjust your team and players to the tempo and result of the game. Nigeria has lacked this in the entire tournament sticking to one formation and not adjusting to outwit the opponents.

This almost cost the team in the fixture against South Africa in the semi-finals of the AFCON 2023, individual brilliance as well as the defensive strengths of the Super Eagles of Nigeria had been what kept the team afloat and took the game into penalties.

South Africa identified a gap in Nigeria's formation and exploited it with long balls and precise defence-splitting crosses which had the team struggling for a huge part of the game. The statistics were also in the favour of the Bafana Bafana of South Africa as the team with a player down recorded over 600 passes and maintained 61 percent of the ball possession.

Although Nigeria had gotten the results signs had begun to show ahead of the finals that the team required a tactical flexibility that can see them adopt based on the style of play of their opponents.

Absence of creativity

Super Eagles goal celebration against Cameroon at AFCON 2023
Super Eagles goal celebration against Cameroon

The absence of creativity when it comes to crafting chances that could possibly lead to goals was another huge setback the Super Eagles of Nigeria lacked in their final game of AFCON 2023 and this created an over-reliance of the team on direct balls.

Creativity is very important in any gameplay of a team as this creates an opportunity for the forward and other attackers to get goals. It is uncertain if the removal of Wilfred Ndidi due to injury from the squad affected the dynamics going into the competition but one thing is certain the Super Eagles would need to re-strategise going into the qualifiers for the World Cup 2026 and AFCON 2025.

Overall, the spirit and doggedness of the team is something commendable as the players have shown once again what patriotism and teamwork can achieve against all odds with their performance at AFCON 2023, many like myself expect the team to build on this going forward.

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