In the history of the Africa Cup of Nations, the competition’s top goalscorer has played for the overall winners on 17 occasions.
Looking back at those who have done that double, the names of Christopher Katongo and Emmanuel Mayuka (Zambia, 2012), Gedo (Egypt 2010), Francileudo Santos (Tunisia 2004) and Patrick M’Boma and Salomon Olembe (Cameroon 2002) come to mind.
The last player to do it was Nigeria’s Emmanuel Emenike in 2013 — also the last time his nation won the AFCON. Coincidentally, Nigeria’s other two triumphs also saw one of their players top the goalscoring charts: Segun Odegbami in 1980 and Rashidi Yekini in 1994.
Yekini and Odegbami are Nigeria’s all-time top goalscorers with 37 and 23 goals respectively, followed by Yakubu and Victor Osimhen with 21 each. The Napoli striker’s latest goal came in Nigeria’s opening match in this year’s AFCON against Equatorial Guinea — but in the following four games, he has failed to find the back of the net.
Analysing Victor Osimhen’s incredible leap
For a superstar African striker, scoring only one goal as his side reaches the AFCON semi-finals might seem like an underperformance. However, Osimhen has still been operating at a very high level — it’s just the goals that are missing.
Spearheading Nigeria’s attack and flanked by two of Moses Simon, Ademola Lookman and Samuel Chukwueze, Osimhen has scored once from an expected goal (xG) tally of 3.1. He has been regularly in the right positions, but only missing the final touch, as Opta’s AFCON data analysis shows.
However, Osimhen isn’t just a goalscorer for Nigeria. Whether it’s in the 4-3-3 shape that Nigeria’s manager Jose Peseiro fielded against Equatorial Guinea, or the 3-4-3 he has moved to since Nigeria’s second game in the competition against Ivory Coast, Osimhen has been an effective outlet for his side.
Nigeria have been constantly playing long balls into the forward to progress the ball up the pitch, seeking to win second balls if the Napoli striker fails to win the aerial duel.
“He didn’t score, but he did a fantastic game. It’s not easy to stop that guy,” said Peseiro when asked about Osimhen’s lack of goals after the 2-0 win against Cameroon.
“Whenever a striker can defend and can attack, sometimes you need to put the ball into him and he wins the ball against two or three, and you wait for our team to arrive.”
In addition to being an effective outlet for Nigeria in terms of ball progression, Osimhen has been chasing long balls that are played behind the opponents’ defence while also harrying and pressuring their players throughout the competition.
“Victor is such a passionate player,” said Alex Iwobi ahead of Nigeria’s 1-0 victory against Ivory Coast. “He presses so well — and when he does that, it gives the team the motivation to get up the pitch. And he’s never satisfied. It’s not just the goals he scores; it’s the hunger he’s got to continue doing so.”
Osimhen’s work rate when his team doesn’t have the ball paid off in the last-16 victory against Cameroon. In the lead-up to Nigeria’s first goal, Osimhen presses Jean-Charles Castelletto near the halfway line…
… and from the subsequent throw-in, he presses Cameroon’s central centre-back, Oumar Gonzalez, wins the ball off him and puts Lookman through on goal. The Atalanta forward then gives Nigeria the lead.
Osimhen might not have scored that goal, but it was all about his relentless effort without the ball. Offensively, the striker’s off-ball movement is also helping the team; Nigeria’s only goal in the victory against Guinea-Bissau was an own goal, but Osimhen’s movement played a role.
In this example, Osimhen attacks the penalty area after Nigeria switch the play towards their left wing-back, Ola Aina, who heads the ball into the path of Simon. Initially, Osimhen moves to attack the near post…
… but then adjusts his run to attack the back post, where Guinea-Bissau’s centre-back, Opa Sangante, can’t see both him and the ball at the same time…
… forcing the defender to react when Simon plays the ball across the goal.
Nigeria’s fortune saw Sangante put the ball into his own net, but Osimhen’s positioning and change of direction in his run pressured the defender to react — because if he hadn’t, the striker was there to pounce.
In the quarter-final against Angola, Osimhen’s movement inside the penalty area benefited Nigeria differently. Here, Osimhen darts into the box after Simon breaks past the Angola defence…
… and the stiker’s movement forces Angola’s centre-back, Jonathan Buatu, to drop deeper, creating space near the penalty spot for Lookman’s late run. Simon spots his fellow forward and plays the ball into his path…
… for Lookman to score the winner and guide Nigeria to the semi-finals.
Being a target man and constantly making off-ball runs can go unnoticed, but Osimhen’s team-mates appreciate the striker’s overall performances.
“Victor is carrying a lot of weight and maybe occupies two or three players at a time which creates a lot of space for Simon and Ademola,” William Troost-Ekong told The Athletic after reaching the semi-finals.
Looking back at Nigeria’s goals in this AFCON, Osimhen has directly or indirectly contributed to five of the six. He scored against Equatorial Guinea, won the penalty against Ivory Coast, assisted Lookman’s first goal versus Cameroon, and his off-ball movement played a role in the winners against Guinea-Bissau and Angola.
One goal in five games isn’t reflective of Osimhen’s performances in the tournament as he is offering Nigeria more than that. “I believe even he doesn’t think about scoring. He thinks about victory,” said Simon after the triumph against Angola.
With two games to go, there is just one goal in Osimhen’s sight — and it’s to win the AFCON for Nigeria.
The Osimhen story: Difficult childhood and the 15 minutes that saved his career
(Header photo: Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)