As the draw for the extended version of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), holds on Friday, 12 April, 2019, in Cairo, Egypt, football enthusiasts as well as soccer pundits across the continent have continued to make a lot of permutations regarding which participating countries will ambush each other in the group stage of the competition which is to hold in Egypt from 21 June to 19 July, 2019.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria who are three-time champions are making a return to the continental championship after missing out in the last two editions in 2015 and 2017. The Super Eagles are seeded in pot 2 alongside Morocco, Algeria, Guinea, Mali and DR Congo. Hosts, Egypt and title holders, Cameroon are seeded in pot1 alongside Ghana, Tunisia and Senegal. Uganda, South Africa, Guinea-Bissau, Zimbabwe, Angola and debutant, Burundi occupy pot 3, while Mauritania, Namibia, Benin, Kenya, Madagascar, the home country of current CAF President, Ahmad Ahmad, and Tanzania, who qualified for the competition after thirty-nine years completed the slots in pot4.
The 24 teams were seeded based on the approval of the Organising Committee of the African Cup of Nations at its meeting on Monday, 25 March, 2019 at the CAF headquarters in Cairo, Egypt taking into account the performance of the qualified teams in AFCON final tournaments (2013, 2015, 2017), AFCON qualifiers (2015, 2017,2019), and March 2019 FIFA World Rankings. With the new development in the 32nd edition of the continental showpiece, the top two teams of each group, along with the best four third-placed teams, advanced to the round of 16.
The re-emergence of the Super Eagles in the continental elite football competition is no doubt a revival of hope and reawakening of interest for the followers of the game across Nigeria, after the Gernot Rohr charges have qualified for the competition with one game to spare. The question now is how far can Nigeria go in Egypt? What are the chances of the new crop of Eagles?
As the draw holds on Friday, 12 April, 2019, on a historic place facing the Sphinx and the Pyramids, near Cairo, Egypt, the Super Eagles are likely to meet the title holders, Cameroon, or perhaps any former champions from pot1. Pot 1 comprises countries who are former champions except Senegal who are still chasing their first title, though they are not underdog in the competition. The technical department of the Super Eagles should be aware of the fact that the greatest challengers are in pot 1 hence the need to prepare the Eagles to overcome any team they will face from this pot in the group stage.
The other teams in pots 3 and 4 might also pose some threat to the chances of the Super Eagles, most especially the first timers who might want to prove a point in the biennial tournament. In the glorious days of the Eagles, one would have written off most of these teams, however, football has gone beyond that level for one to make such claim.
Whichever team that will be in the same group with Nigeria after the Friday’s draw, the Super Eagles ought to realize that every group match is important and should approach it with every sense of seriousness it deserves. The followers of the round leather game in the country have waited enough to see the Eagles adding another trophy in the trophy cabinet at the Glass House, Abuja.
Furthermore, the ball is now in coach Gernot Rohr’s court to carefully select players that can prosecute this tournament to latter, putting aside any form of sentiment that might influence credible selection ahead of the competition. Only those players who are ready to make Nigeria proud in the tournament should be selected.
Adequate arrangement ought to me made by the Nigeria Football Federation to prepare the players ahead of the competition. The friendly match line-up for the Eagles is a step towards achieving the dream of lifting the trophy in Egypt on July 19, 2019. Funds should also be disbursed early to curb any case of non-payment of match bonuses and allowances during the competition. Nigeria and Nigerians will no longer bear any form of disappointment from the Super Eagles this time as previous strings of dismal performances have dampened the hope of football lovers, made them disenchanted and caused disconsolation in the minds of many football enthusiasts across the country.
The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations is to be played in six stadiums in Egypt, namely Cairo International Stadium, 30 June Stadium, Al Salam Stadium all in Cairo. Others are Alexandria Stadium in Alexandria, Suez Stadium in Suez and Ismailia Stadium in Ismailia. With the tournament fast approaching, it is hope that the Super Eagles can fly higher in Egypt.