Eagles on the Wing, but Will They Fly Without Osimhen?

The 2023 AFCON semi-final between Nigeria and South Africa looms, but a shadow hangs over the Super Eagles camp. Victor Osimhen, the reigning African Footballer of the Year, is a doubt with an abdominal issue.

Coach Peseiro remains tight-lipped, leaving Nigerians in suspense. Osimhen is the talisman, the spearhead of their attack. The 2023 African player of the year won’t be part of the semifinal in Bouake and his absence would be a significant blow, not just for his goalscoring prowess (though his solitary strike in the tournament doesn’t tell the whole story), but for his tireless work ethic and aerial dominance.

Speaking at the pre-match press conference, Peseiro remained tight-lipped about Osimhen’s exact condition and his chances of playing. “I cannot say right now,” he admitted, “This afternoon I can know better if he can play or not. The doctors will continue to work with him and confirm his fitness later in the day.”

However, the Super Eagles have shown resilience throughout the tournament. They battled through a tough group stage, overcame adversity against Cameroon in the round of 16, Angola in the quarters, and remain unbeaten with a single goal conceded all through the tournament. Can they find a way to soar without their star striker?

The OPTA Analysts , provided the following pregame facts ahead of the semifinal clash:

Nigeria vs South Africa: Pre-Match Facts

  • Nigeria are the favourites to win AFCON 2023 with the Opta supercomputer, and are given a 52.2% chance of winning this tie inside 90 minutes, and a 63.9% likelihood overall of reaching the final.
  • This will be the fourth encounter between Nigeria and South Africa at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, with the Super Eagles winning the previous three by an aggregate score of 8-1.
  • Nigeria and South Africa last met in the semi-finals at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2000, with the Super Eagles running out 2-0 winners thanks to a brace from Tijani Babangida.
  • Nigeria are playing in a record 15th semi-final at the Africa Cup of Nations, while they’ve only progressed from one of their last six at this stage of the competition, going on to win the competition in South Africa in 2013.
  • Nigeria have won their last four AFCON games without conceding; they could keep five consecutive clean sheets in the competition for the first time since March 1982 (W4 D1), while they’ve never done so when winning all five games.
  • South Africa are playing in their fourth semi-final at the Africa Cup of Nations and their first since 2000, when they were eliminated by Nigeria (2-0).
  • South Africa have kept four consecutive clean sheets at the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time (W2 D2), while it’s as many as they’d recorded in their previous 21 matches in the competition combined.
  • Nigeria have had just three different goal scorers (excluding own goals) at AFCON 2023 (Ademola Lookman, Victor Osimhen and William Troost-Ekong), their fewest in a single edition since 2008 (two, Yakubu and John Obi Mikel).
  • South Africa have had six shots following a high turnover at AFCON 2023; only Egypt have had more (seven), while only Morocco (nine) have had more direct attacks than Bafana Bafana (eight) in the competition this year.
  • Osimhen has only scored one goal despite attempting the most shots (19) at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations – a shot conversion rate of 5.3%, with an expected goals tally of 3.09; he’s underperforming his xG by a bigger margin than any other player (-2.09).
  • Nigeria have the highest expected goals (8.59) tally and the most big chances (18) at AFCON 2023, with all six of their goals coming inside the box – only Ivory Coast (46) have had more shots from inside the box than the Super Eagles (44).
  • Themba Zwane has been directly involved in 50% (3/6) of South Africa’s goals at AFCON 2023 (two goals, one assist), while he could become the first Bafana Bafana player to score three goals in a single edition of AFCON since Shaun Bartlett in 2000 (5).

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