A s the 26th Edition of the African Cup of Nations starts today in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, Nigeria's Super Eagles under the leadership of German coach Berti Vogts is set to take on its first opponents tomorrow. Across the length and breadth of Nigeria, the air is filled with strong clamour for the Eagles to go all the way and "bring the cup back".
The tournament is still young, but some respondents claim that "football has moved beyond mysteries to a point where one can actually predict the end of a match or even a whole tournament". Muhammed Bello, a former striker with Katsina United, told LEADERSHIP Sunday Sport that "our game has truly improved over the years; we have a formidable team and a perfect coaching crew. The only thing our team requires now is encouragement and prayers of all Nigerians. We know they are capable and that is why we are saying to them: Please bring the Cup of Nations trophy back to Nigeria where it belongs".
From the four-nation experiment beneath the heart-roasting sun of Khartoum, Sudan, in 1957, to the proposal at the third FIFA Congress for the creation of the Confederation of African Football, in Lisbon 1986, the African Cup of Nations has continued to grow both in the number of participating teams as well as commentators. The growth of the tournament has also witnessed different fortunes for various nations in its 51 years of existence.
The Super Eagles has a peculiar history that tends to attract both foreign ex-nationals and coaches as well as local sports enthusiasts to think that the team can rise again to the challenge of ruling the African football scene - a feeling that many describe as "more than just patriotism".
Abedi Pelle and Hadji Diof, both veterans of African football, have been quoted as having tipped the Super Eagles for the finals. Former coach of the Nigerian team Tunde Disu also believed this prediction will come true, saying that Nigeria parades not only a team of talented stars but stars whose experience and confidence can be translated into victory at the finals.
Tracing the role of the Super Eagles in the tournament, Buhari Badamasi, a sports analyst, said Nigeria has won the cup twice, in 1980 and 1994, and this is the time to make a repeat performance. "The mathematics is that, 14 years after it had the first victory it scored the second; it is now 14 years since the last one. So, we expect that fortune will run in our way," Badamasi said. "Apart from 1996 when the Super Eagles pulled out of the tournament due to military rule and 1998 when the team was disqualified, the Super Eagles have always gone up to the semifinals stage of the competition since 1988. This is a good omen and a sign that the team can do better."
For Bosede Adetokunbo, a student and ardent sports-lover, her analysis of the team gives the coach a pass mark. According to her, Berti Vogts has an interesting antecedent especially with his Euro 1996 victory as the coach of the German national team. Besides, there couldn't have been a better composition for the Super Eagles than what he has done with the 2008 squad.
She said the line-up is fantastic. "Every out-field player is grounded in football, with strong experience from the European league. Upfront we have a great combination of Obafemi Martins, John Utaka, Yakubu Ayegbeni, Makinwa, Nsofor, Peter Odewingie and the sensational Kanu Nwankwo.
"John Obi Mikel is going to do the magic in the midfield while Eromoigbe, Etuhu and Okonkwo will not relent. I expect Taye Taiwo and Joseph Yobo to constitute an unbreakable defence and save Vincent Enyeama the trouble of such strikers as Drogba," explained Adetokunbo.
While Femi Jibowu expects the Super Eagles to win most of their matches, he admits that the tournament will be a tough one. "The matches will be tough. There are many good teams but the Super Eagles is a better team. I know they can survive."
Pastor George Fakorede and Ade Tonsola also expect a victory for the Eagles. Pastor Fakorede thinks that the only thing needed for the victory of the Eagles is prayers, and he has predicted a victory in that regard.
Ade Tonsola, however, concludes that both technical know-how and men are intact, adding that "there is no stopping the Eagles on this year's tournament".
The Super Eagles is set to open their play with a match with the Ivorian national team tomorrow, a match which many have predicted victory also for the Super Eagles. This may be the first opportunity to test the strength of this great team.
Having hosted the Cup of Nations twice, with 14 appearances in the tournament and six appearances in the finals, not forgetting two titles stringed to its belt in 1980 and 1994, the Super Eagles, grouped alongside Cote D'Ivore, Mali and Benin in the "Group of Death" (Group B), are surely set to make another statement at the end of another 14 years.
The tournament is still at its opening state, like the first rainstorm of the new season, yet Nigerians are shouting for the reshuffled Super Eagles, under the dynamic German coach Berti Vogts, to bring the cup back. Can this feat be achieved? The world will soon know.