Nigeria AFCON 2023 Preview and Predicted XI: Awoniyi injury opens door

In our Nigeria AFCON 2023 Preview, we look at the Super Eagles' chances of winning their fourth Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title, and predict their starting XI for the tournament.

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How did Nigeria qualify for AFCON?

Playing in their 20th AFCON, and boasting the sixth-highest FIFA ranking of all participants (#40), Nigeria comfortably swept aside Group A in qualifying by winning five of their six games. They overcame Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Sao Tome and Principe to qualify in first place, including 10-0 and 6-0 thrashings against the latter.

Popular AFCON 2023 top scorer pick Victor Osimhen was their top scorer with 10 goals, which included four in the 10-0 thrashing of Sao Tome and Principe, and a hat-trick in the 6-0 reverse fixture.

Nigeria amongst candidates in our Best African team at 2026 FIFA World Cup prediction
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Nigeria AFCON 2023 Preview

Who will Nigeria play at AFCON 2023?

Nigeria are in Group A alongside hosts Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.

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Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast are hosting AFCON 2023, but did still go through qualifying. They came second to Zambia in Group H, which also contained Comoros and Lesotho, the latter of whom Nigeria only managed to draw 1-1 at home to in a recent 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier.

They have won AFCON twice before, most recently in 2015, and will pose a threat with stars like Borussia Dortmund's Sebastien Haller and Brighton and Hove Albion's Simon Adingra.

The Ivorians were drawn from pot one as hosts, despite having a lower FIFA ranking (50th) than Nigeria, who were drawn from pot two, but will be a dangerous opponent with the majority of the crowd behind them.

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Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea are competing in their third AFCON, with their best finish being fourth in 2015, the year that they hosted the tournament, and fellow group opponents Ivory Coast won it.

They came second in their qualifying group behind Tunisia, with Botswana and Libya making up Group J, and are 92nd in the FIFA rankings. Ex-Middlesbrough  and Birmingham City man Emilio Nsue captains the side, and is their record scorer, having recently grabbed his 18th goal in a 1-0 win at Liberia in World Cup qualifying.

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Guinea-Bissau

Nigeria will play Guinea-Bissau once again, having faced them in qualifying. Incidentally, they were the only team to take points off of the Super Eagles, beating them 1-0 away from home in March.

The 106th-ranked team by FIFA have qualified for their fourth AFCON in a row, but have never made it past the group stage, and will be looking to change that. Olympique Lyon's Mama Balde scored the winning goal against Nigeria in qualifying, and will likely be one of Guinea-Bissau's biggest threats.

How far will Nigeria go?

Despite winning AFCON three times prior, Nigeria's recent showings have been poor considering the talent they possess. They were knocked out in the Round of 16 in 2o21, and did not even qualify in 2012, 2015 or 2017.

Their recent form has also been patchy, with disappointing 1-1 draws against Lesotho and Zimbabwe in World Cup qualifying. However, with Osimhen likely to play alongside Victor Boniface, there's enough firepower on paper to make anything less than a solid run to the semi-finals a huge disappointment.

2023 AFCON odds for Nigeria

Nigeria – Predicted AFCON 2023 XI

Goalkeeper

In goal is likely to be Francis Uzoho, who has started Nigeria's last two World Cup qualifiers. He has 29 international caps, and has played at the last two AFCONs.

Defence

There is little dispute over Nigeria's centre-back pairing, as it is likely to be Semi Ajayi and Calvin Bassey. They both play their club football in England with West Brom and Fulham respectively, and have 34 senior caps between them. At full-back, there is plenty of competition, but Ola Aina and Bruno Onyemaechi may get the nod at right-back and left-back respectively. The former also plays in England with Nottingham Forest, and between them they have 31 senior caps.

Midfield

The experienced Leicester City man Wilfried Ndidi will likely anchor the midfield with Brentford's Frank Onyeka, to give the wingers the licence to go forward. Bassey's Fulham team-mate Alex Iwobi will likely operate one of the flanks, with Atalanta's Ademola Lookman, who used to play at Craven Cottage, on the other.

AFCON top scorer betting favourite Victor Osimhen of Nigeria after completing his hattrick vs Sao Tome
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Attack

There is no dispute over who the first striker will be, as Victor Osimhen will spearhead the team if fit. He has returned to training with Napoli after injury, and half of his 20 senior goals for Nigeria came in qualifying. Partnering him is likely to be Bayer Leverkusen hotshot Victor Boniface, after news that Taiwo Awoniyi will miss AFCON through injury.


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Adam Clancy

Adam is a lead writer on Football Whispers. He is a big Arsenal fan, and also follows his local club Wealdstone, made famous by The Wealdstone Raider, of whom he has interviewed. Adam also follows darts, boxing, cricket and tennis, among many other sports.