Super Eagles are a big brand in Africa. On global stage, the team is also highly rated because of the enormous talents of the country scattered all over the world. Any tournament in Africa without the Nigerian team is believed to be incomplete. After Nigeria won the 2013 Africa Nations Cup in South Africa under the tutelage of late Coach Stephen Keshi, the Super Eagles failed to pick a ticket for the 2015 and 2017 editions. We appreciate the return of the Eagles to Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) and only last week, the draw of the event took place in Cairo, Egypt. It was indeed a great spectacle to behold as the hosts of the North Africans exhibited readiness for the football showcase in style.

The draw ceremony took place with huge exhibition of the famed pyramids of Giza to the world. The draw looked like the opening ceremony as the North Africans exhibited their culture with entertainment, calisthenics display and a whole lot. It was also nice to see many former African greats like Antony Baffoe of Ghana, Mustapha Hadji of Morocco, Yaya Toure of Cote d’Ivoire, El-Hadji Diouf of Senegal, and a host of others. Baffoe, who works with the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF), did well with the draw which produced very interesting pairings. The Eagles will play against Guinea, Madagascar and Burundi in Group B of the championship.

Followers of the round leather game believe this is an easy group for Nigeria or so it looks on paper but we hereby warn that the opponents must be taken seriously. We recall that Madagascar was the first country to qualify for 2019 AFCON while Burundi made it to Egypt ahead of Gabon, a country that has Pierre-Emerick Aubumeyang as striker and skipper. We commend Eagles Manager Gernot Rohr who came out to state that the team would not underrate any of its other opponents in the group. Rohr said it was a dicey group in which the players would have to double their efforts to get the desired results for Nigeria. “We are going to work very hard to make sure we get to the level we are expected to be. We need to take all matches seriously.

It is dangerous to underrate any country or team in a big competition of this magnitude,” Rohr said. The draw ceremony was enough indication that the event was near and we charge the football authorities to set up machinery to monitor the group opponents of the Eagles and other top teams that could be the country’s obstacle in Egypt.

The relatively unknown players in the other groups could be dangerous and so we expect national coaches to work on how best to tackle the opposition. Guinea could be the biggest threat but it is important for the team to avoid coming second in the group because the second team will play the winner of Group A which is likely to be Egypt.

We make bold to say the talents are there for the Eagles to fly in Egypt. The defence of the Eagles is still suspect and the goalkeeping department is also not good enough. We also charge the coaches to again evaluate the three current goalies and probably inject one more to boost that department. The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) will need to step up the preparation for this competition now that the three opponents at group level are known.

There should be adequate preparation for possible teams the Eagles could meet in the second round and the quarterfinals. It is instructive to stress that this is a new AFCON because of the 24-team format and it is being staged for the first time in the summer. The new entrants and ‘minnows’ should not be underrated and that is why the Eagles must have a high percentage of young players who can be strong enough to withstand tough challenges from an aggressive team.

We are however particular about the main actors, the players. Their attitude and response to training matter. The players are always reluctant to national duties after the season. They often complain of having a ‘hectic season’ and so most of them will get to camp very late. Because the AFCON is taking place in June, deliberate steps should be taken to get the players to camp early. There should be understanding with the players to honour the timeline for the run-in of this event. All the players must be available for the friendly matches arranged as build up. Eagles skipper, Mikel Obi, has been out of the team since the last World Cup in Russia and we call on Rohr to be firm about the inclusion of the player for AFCON.

Mikel and all other players must be evaluated on merit. We appreciate that the experience of the Skipper is vital but it is also important not to hinder the current flow in the team. AFCON is the number one football competition on the continent and we believe Nigeria is good enough to clinch her 4th title if all those concerned work towards this.

Source: New Telegraph

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