Following the anniversary of the AFCON triumph, we look back at the 23 men that became continental champions and examine their changing fortunes over the last 12 months
By Ed Dove
Any Nigerian who witnessed the Super Eagles’ triumph at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations will be forever unable to erase those golden souvenirs from their memories. For the players who took part, however, the tournament will have been hugely significant, either as a perfect launch pad for a successful international career, or as an isolated highlight, the pinnacle of a professional’s life.
As we now approach the 2014 World Cup, the members of that AFCON squad fall into three camps. There are those who have built upon their success in South Africa to become established internationals primed for a World Cup showing; there are those who have stuttered since the Cup of Nations and whose Nigeria fortunes have been thrown into question following the latest squad unveiling; and there are those who have fallen far from the limelight altogether since that golden month on the Cape.
This article examines how the last 12 months have treated our 23 AFCON heroes.
Enyeama | 'Recognised as one of Europe's finest'
After inspiring the youngsters around him to the continental crown, the keeper moved back to French side Lille where he has begun to be recognised as one of Europe’s finest. Came close to breaking the Ligue 1 record for consecutive minutes without conceding a goal, and enhanced his reputation greatly in the process.
Joseph Yobo (c)
Axed following the Cup of Nations, Yobo’s year has come a full circle. Only now has he been recalled to the fold, suggesting that he might be in line to earn a spot to Brazil. Having struggled for minutes at Turkish giants Fenerbahce, he has returned to England, to the Premier League, and Norwich City, could he complete an unexpected return to form?
Established as Nigeria’s first-choice left-back and earned himself a move to Ligue 1 side Monaco, however, the form of the incumbent Layvin Kurzawa has begun to affect Elderson’s playing time.
No one on this list has fallen further. Obiorah is one of only two in the AFCON squad not to have received a single call-up since the tournament and is currently in the process of rebuilding his reputation at Spanish side Cordoba.
Endured heartache immediately after the Cup of Nations following a dismal Champions League performance against Juventus, but has continued his development at Celtic, albeit in a central role. Questions remain as to whether he is the right man to provide an expansive presence on the right flank.
Musa | Could be set to ignite
A squad regular who has started five of the last six Nigeria matches. Has proved himself to be an able, if slightly clumsy, deputy to Kenneth Omeruo and should travel to Brazil.
Made great progress in the months following the Cup of Nations, winning the Russian title with CSKA Moscow after an influential spell in the first team. During 2013 he went from being an impact substitute with the national side to being a serious first team option and was a pivotal figure during the summer, playing every minute of the Confederations Cup and also starting World Cup Qualifiers against Kenya and Namibia.
Could be set to ignite this summer.
Goalless performances for Nigeria have earned him the ire of fans and it seems that finally, Stephen Keshi has also lost faith in his forward. Will need to improve his seasonal return of four goals to even make it on the plane to Brazil.
The top scorer at the Cup of Nations, Emenike has had a year to remember. He missed both the AFCON final and the Confederations Cup through injury, but his reputation was enhanced through his absence and he returned to score crucial goals in the World Cup play-off against Ethiopia.
Emenike | Reputation enhanced
Mikel John Obi
Nigeria’s key man is another who will look back fondly upon 2013. He scored a fine goal against Uruguay during the Confederations Cup and managed to retain his place at Chelsea despite summer speculation linking him with a move away. The return of Nemanja Matic casts a shadow over Mikel’s Blues future, but he will doubtless be a pivotal figure for Keshi this summer.
Made some pertinent contributions during the Cup of Nations and enjoyed an encouraging early start to life at Chelsea. However, Jose Mourinho’s arrival saw Moses moved out on loan to Liverpool, where he has largely been a disappointment. Domestic troubles haven’t affected his standing with the national side as yet, but at club level, his future is uncertain.
A squad player for the early part of 2013, Gabriel missed out on the summer’s fixtures but was invited back to the fold by Keshi for the second-leg of the Ethiopia tie. Recently moved to Belgian side Waasland-Beveren but remains an outside bet for the World Cup.
Bulky defensive midfielder who has his detractors among Nigeria fans; deposed during the AFCON but returned to the team for the summer following an injury to Onazi. Hasn’t been seen since the Mandela Challenge and it looks unlikely that a January move to Amkar Perm will convince Keshi he deserves a recall.
Fantastic during the Cup of Nations and has looked solid ever-since, starting all but one of Nigeria’s games during the rest of 2013. He also finally made the move to Europe where he is embroiled in a relegation battle with Caykur Rizespor of Turkey.
Uche | A remarkable fall from grace
A combination of anonymous performances and alleged discontent within the squad displeased Keshi enough for the Big Boss to completely ignore Uche ever since the Cup of Nations. The Villarreal forward has been in magnificent form this season, with 12 goals in 19 games, but Nigeria’s most natural finisher is still unable to earn a return to the national side.
Solid back-up to Enyeama and hasn’t disappointed when called upon. Looked impressive before injury struck v. Italy.
Has continued his meteoric rise since establishing himself within the team during the Cup of Nations. Exciting midfield performances for both Lazio and Nigeria led to major speculation linking him with a move to the Premier League—Merseyside giants, Liverpool and Everton, have both expressed interest in his services.
A major disappointment during the Cup of Nations, where he made only one brief cameo, 2013 was a year to forget, particularly following an aborted move to Europe, with French side Rennes. However, Uzoenyi’s fortunes look to be improving.
The winger was named as the ‘Player of the Tournament’ during the recent African Nations Championship and has earned himself a recall to the Super Eagles squad.
Uzoenyi | Coming to prominence at just the right time
For Mba, read the opposite to Uzoenyi. Unheralded before the AFCON, the attacking midfielder found playing time when others faltered and rewarded Keshi’s faith with match-winning goals against Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso in the final. However, a transfer tangle between Nigerian sides Enugu Rangers and Warri Wolves saw Mba remain in a state of inactivity, leading to a decline in his form and fitness.
Finally he has made his long-awaited move to Europe, to Corsican side CA Bastia, but it appears that Keshi may have lost faith—Mba was overlooked for the squad to face Mexico.
The wild dog of Nigerian football, Igiebor flopped as a creative force during the Cup of Nations, but Keshi has appeared to remain keen to include the playmaker in his squad. Igiebor has featured on three occasions since the AFCON. Others appear to have usurped him with the national side.
Sturdy Israel-based defender was ignored for almost a year after his brief AFCON cameo, but has now been recalled to the squad, replacing Francis Benjamin as the team’s reserve left-back.
Looked remarkably assured at the AFCON when stealing into the first team ahead of Joseph Yobo, but since then, there’s been little to celebrate. A shoulder injury forced him off the pitch during the Confederations Cup and has stymied his progress ever since. Needs to force his way into the Middlesbrough first team as soon as possible.
An ever-present in the national side throughout 2013, Agbim’s career has gone into meltdown following an abysmal CHAN campaign. He was released by Enugu Rangers and, for the first time in over a year, has missed out on the Nigeria squad.