Burundi are in their maiden appearance at African football’s top table while Egypt 2019 is Nigeria’s 18th attempt, with three titles, four silver medals and five bronze medals to show for her efforts.
The Eagles are ready. So they say. Today is the day they have been preparing for and the players, who held their last training session here in Alexandria yesterday, believe today’s opening Group B game against Burundi marks the beginning of the race to their fourth African Cup of Nations title in Egypt.
The match against the Itamba Ru Mugamba of Burundi will hold at the 20,000–capacity Alexandria Stadium from 6.00 p.m. Nigerian time.
Nigeria, which is reappearing in this competition for the first time since it beat Burkina Faso to win the 2013 edition, will also meet Guinea and Madagascar in the battle to qualify for the second round of the competition.
Looking ahead to a successful opening game, Team Captain, John Obi Mikel said his warriors are ready for battle.
“There would have been no reason to come here if we were not going to go all out for the Cup. It is not something that is up for debate. Whenever we step out there, the objective is to win.
“The last time we appeared at the AFCON, we won the competition. There are several new players in our squad now, who were not in South Africa six years ago. But the spirit of the champion team still subsists.”
Nigeria failed to qualify for the last tow editions of the competitions, but the team coached by Franco-German, Gernot Rohr wants to make up for lost opportunities.
Among the players in the current team are only three players, who featured in the cup-wing side of 2013.
They are Skipper Mikel John Obi, deputy skipper Ahmed Musa and defence stalwart Kenneth Omeruo.
Although the squad is made up of youngsters, the talents in the team make up for what it lacks in experience.
The newbies include Henry Onyekuru, former U17 World Cup winners, Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze, France-based Samuel Kalu, Denmark–based Paul Onuachu and Levante of Spain’s Moses Simon, who missed Russia 2018 as a result of injury.
Rohr has not revealed his choice for the number position, but there are indications that he would stick with Francis Uzoho, who was his number at the Russia 2018 World Cup.
A win today will prepare the Super Eagles for a smooth passage to the second round, but pundits have warned the Eagles to beware of the little-known Burundi, which did not lose any game in qualifying for this event.
The match begins by 6.00 p.m. Nigerian time.