Much-Maligned Peseiro Defies Critics With Nigeria At AFCON

NIGERIA’s run to this Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations final against hosts Ivory Coast is a personal triumph for coach Jose Peseiro, the veteran from Portugal who had been the subject of stinging criticism in the run-up to the tournament.

The 63-year-old had been widely written off in Nigeria as the wrong man for the job long before they opened their AFCON campaign with a 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea in Abidjan on January 14.

Yet four weeks later he will lead the Super Eagles out at the same Ebimpe Olympic Stadium for a showdown against the Ivorians as Africa’s most populous country aims to become continental champions for the fourth time.

The way in which Peseiro has done it has been somewhat counter-intuitive.

Nigeria scored more goals than any other team in qualifying for this Cup of Nations, and in prolific striker Victor Osimhen they have the reigning African footballer of the year in their ranks.

Peseiro also has a wealth of other top-class attacking options, and yet he responded to that poor opening result by changing to a new system featuring three centre-backs.

The emphasis would now be firmly on not conceding goals.

“You cannot play 10 guys in attack. No team can win that way,” Peseiro told AFP at Nigeria’s Abidjan base just before they faced Ivory Coast in their second match.

“We try to command and control the game every time, it is our style. We have players to do that. It is different to the football Nigeria played before, with more power, speed, strength and fight.

“Our players have different characteristics, so you need to adapt but give balance at the same time, make sure your team does not concede goals.”

The impact was immediate, as Nigeria beat the Ivorians 1-0 in their second game and then defeated Guinea-Bissau, also 1-0. A 2-0 win over Cameroon came next in the last 16, before they edged Angola 1-0.

After four successive clean sheets came a 1-1 draw at the end of extra time in the semi-final against South Africa, as Nigeria emerged victorious on penalties.

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