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AFRICAN FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR

AFCON targeting Osimhen sings Amuneke praises

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As everyone at the Palais des Congrès in Marrakech rose to their feet to give Victor Osimhen a standing ovation after he was named the CAF African Footballer of the Year on Monday, the prolific goal scorer wore an ear-to-ear smile.

The 24-year-old Nigerian clad in a fancy green suit made his way to the center stage and absorbed the moment before thanking his teammates and everyone that has supported his journey from the beginning.

“This feels good. It has been 24 years since a Nigerian – Nwankwo Kanu won this award. It is a very good feeling to have put Nigeria back on the map. I appreciate God for this,” he said with a content face.

Osimhen was quick to pinpoint at the legendary player and coach Emmanuel Amuneke who gave him a chance to feature for Nigeria right from the U17 level.

“He believed in me right from the start and was at the heart of our 2015 FIFA U17 World Cup victory in Chile. He gave me the opportunity to really showcase myself and when things were not going well with me, he was the brain behind the motivation and it is absolutely right for me to acknowledge him at the biggest stage because behind closed doors, he has helped me a lot. He is present here and here to witness what he has produced,” an emotional Osimhen told CAFOnline.

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Amuneke, who was the 1994 African Player of the Year was at the heart of Nigeria’s AFCON 1994 victory before taking the world by storm at the FIFA World Cup in the USA scoring against Bulgaria and Italy. He was also key to Nigeria’s Atlanta 1996 Olympic gold medal.

He later took up coaching winning the 2015 FIFA U17 World Cup with Osimhen walking away with the Golden Boot after scoring 10 goals – an effective duo.

Osimhen added that, “It is a big night for us as Nigeria. [Asisat] Oshoala, Chiamaka [Nnadozie] and the Super Falcons. It shows what we can do and that we are back on track.”

Oshoala has now won a record six Africa Women’s Player of the Year Awards while Nnadozie walked away with the inaugural Goalkeeper of the Year (Women).

The Super Falcons were named the National Team of the Year (Women) thanks to their exploits at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and most notably their standout 3-2 victory against the hosts – a game in which Oshoala scored the eventual winner after coming back from injury.

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Osimhen revealed that this prestigious award is motivation for him and his teammates ahead of the AFCON 2023 in Côte d’Ivoire.

The Super Eagles are in Group A with the hosts, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea Bissau.

“We are ready and preparing very well. The squad is in high spirits. We are raring to go and hope that we shall do well there,” Osimhen added with hope.

Nigeria have won the AFCON three times in 1980, 1994 and 2013.

Osimhen will be hoping to replicate his fine form next year that has seen him score 27 goals in all competitions for Napoli this year – the joint-most by an African player in the big five European leagues tied with Egyptian Mohamed Salah.

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In May 2023, Victor Osimhen scored against Fiorentina, netting his 47th goal in the Serie A, overtaking George Weah (46) as the highest goal-scoring African player in the history of the competition.

Osimhen is also the highest goal scorer in the TotalEnergies AFCON 2023 qualifiers with 10 goals.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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