New-look Nigeria will get their 2013 Africa Cup of Nations Group B campaign under way when they meet Burkina Faso at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Monday night.
Coach Stephen Keshi has made a number of changes to his squad for this tournament, with as many as 17 players having never appeared at the continental finals before.
Nigeria’s last showing at this level was in Angola in 2010 when they lost to Ghana in the semi-finals. The country’s failure to reach the finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon 12 months ago has led to a major overhaul of their squad.
Keshi believes he has both a team that can be competitive in 2013, and one that will continue to develop and grow with more international experience.
It is a belief backed up by veteran defender Joseph Yobo, the most experienced member of the current group of players. He will be appearing at his sixth Nations Cup finals - a record for his country.
"I believe in this team. I believe in the chief coach as well as the other coaches," he told reporters. "We have a lot of young players in the team with a few experienced ones, which tells you this is a good team going into the tournament.
"We started this journey slowly after we did not qualify for the last tournament. But now we have qualified. That is why we are here and we will take it a game at a time.
"I have a lot of experience going into this tournament and we are not under pressure to come and win it, but as we progress, the confidence will come.”
Burkina Faso have missed just two finals since 1996 (2006 and 2008), but apart from a fourth-placed finish on home soil in 1998, have not managed to get out of the first round.
Tasked with getting them there on this occasion is Belgian coach Paul Put, who took over from Paulo Duarte after the last finals.
He watched his side defeat Swaziland 3-0 in their final warm-up fixture this past week and has declared them ready to face the Super Eagles.
“I was happy with the way we circulated the ball around and we created lots of chances and could have scored more goals against Swaziland,” he told reporters. “It’s a tough game yes, but we are now ready to play Nigeria. We will play to our best, to our full potential.
“We need to win the first match at all cost to give us confidence going forward.”
Nigeria have a strong record against the Burkinabe, winning four of the five previous encounters, with the other match drawn. The last time they met in the continental finals was 1978, when Nigeria triumphed 4-2.