Punters wanting to place a safe bet on the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations should strongly consider putting their money on Nigeria achieving a top-three finish. The Super Eagles have competed at 16 tournaments spanning 50 years and won two, finished runners-up four times and third seven times an incredible record of consistency.
Only in 1963 and 1982 (first round) and 2008 (quarter-finals) have the Eagles failed to collect medals and they look good for at least a last-eight place in South Africa after drawing Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Zambia in Group C. Countries finishing first and second in each of four mini-leagues advance to the quarter-finals and Nigeria and defending champions Zambia are considered the likely survivors.
The Super Eagles surprisingly failed to qualify for the 2012 Cup of Nations in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea and coach Samon Siasia paid the price when his contract was not renewed. Enter Stephen 'Big Boss' Keshi, a no-nonsense coach who skippered Nigeria the last time they conquered Africa with a comeback 2-1 triumph over Zambia in Tunis 19 years ago. He was a physically formidable centre-back who led by example and has spent the last few weeks at a training camp in Portugal trying to instill the same passion for the green and white colours that he possesses.
"I want footballers who are hungry, committed and proud to play for Nigeria," stressed the coach who handled Togo and Mali without getting beyond the first round at previous Cup of Nations tournaments. "It is good to see players working so hard to win places in my starting line-up. Such competition gives me a nice kind of headache. No one has a permanent shirt in the team -- they must fight to get it and fight to keep it."
Centre-back and captain Joseph Yobo, poised to equal the record of former African Footballer of the Year Nwankwo Kanu by playing in six Cup of Nations tournaments, backs the views of his boss. "Winning the trophy is not going to be easy, but I promise we will give it our best shot. I urge Nigerians to keep praying for us and to believe in this team," pleaded the former Everton defender now based in Turkey. "We are travelling to South Africa ready to don the colours of our nation and we will not relent until our goal is reached. Luckily, we have a coaching team that understands us well and I am sure the players are ready to deliver.
"Let us not get beyond ourselves, though. The focus for now is one getting past the group stage and only then should we think about the quarter-finals and, hopefully, the semi-finals and final." Yobo is the defensive general of the Eagles, much is expected from Chelsea pair John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses in midfield, and Ikechukwu Uche from Spanish outfit Villarreal is the probable attacking spearhead.