Nigeria’s Super Eagles are hoping to soar at the 29th Africa Cup of Nations football tournament, which kicks off January 19th in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Super Eagles are based in South Africa’s northeastern city of Nelspruit for their first two Nations Cup matches. They will play Burkina Faso January 21st and defending Nations Cup champion Zambia January 25th, and then wrap up first round group play January 29th against Ethiopia in Rustenberg, South Africa.
African football analyst David Legge says the Nigeria-Zambia encounter will likely decide the Group C winner. He believes both teams will go through to the quarterfinals. “I don’t know anybody who is not going to select the Super Eagles and the Chipolopolo of Zambia for the final eight,” says Legge. “Nigeria-Zambia is a big match because the group winner will probably avoid Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals.”
Nigeria defeated Zambia, 2-1, in the final of the 1994 Nations Cup in Tunisia, and then reached the Round of 16 at the 1994 World Cup in the United States. The captain
of Nigeria’s World Cup squad was Stephen Keshi, who now hopes to bring more glory to the team as head coach of the Super Eagles. Keshi is well aware that triumph in Tunisia was Nigeria’s second and last Nations Cup title, and success in South Africa could go a long way in boosting the spirits of Nigeria’s many football fans.
Nigeria did not qualify for last year’s Africa Cup of Nations, which was co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. It was a bitter blow for Africa’s most populous country, which also failed to win a single medal at the 2012 London Olympics. For both the Olympics and the Nations Cup, sports analysts blamed poor preparations.
Keshi has already pointed out problems in Nigeria’s preparations for South Africa 2013. The Super Eagles did some of their pre-tournament training in Abuja, Nigeria’s political capital, and Keshi harshly criticized the field. “The pitch is terrible,” said Keshi, “and nothing to write home about. It is hard and it is not good for us … some of my players are having leg pains and all this stuff because the field is hard.”
The fields are expected to be softer and in better condition in South Africa, and if Keshi can rally his troops and lift the trophy on February 10th in Johannesburg, that will surely soothe any leg pains and cause Super Eagles fans to rejoice.