From today to February 13, 2013, all eyes will be on South Africa as the country again plays host to 16 nations that will vie for honours in the 29th edition of the African Cup of Nations. The nation's male senior national team, the Super Eagles, are already in South Africa to take part in the biennial event.
This year's event marks the first time the tournament would be organised in an odd-number year. The Confederation of African Football (CAF), the body responsible for football matters in the continent, had to revert to hosting of the event in the odd-number years so that its tournaments do not clash with FIFA events, especially the World Cup that holds every four years. It gives the continent's qualifiers ample time to prepare their teams for the event.
Having missed in qualifying for the last tournament, the Super Eagles under the tutelage of an indigenous coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, should stop at nothing in reasserting the nation's influence in the continent's fiesta.
The Super Eagles flaunt one of the best credentials among the participating teams in the tournament, having won the cup twice in 1980 and 1994. Nigeria was also runners-up in four editions: 1984, 1988, 1990 and 2000. The Super Eagles also won the bronze medal in seven past editions of the tournament: 1976, 1978, 1992, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010.
For this edition of the tournament, the Super Eagles are drawn in Group C comprising Zambia (incidentally the defending champion), Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. The teams are going to engage each other in a round-robbing contest where the first two will qualify for the quarter-finals.
Sports, especially football, are now a weapon in international politics and Nigeria should endeavour to utilise this well. Thankfully, the presidency has assured that no stone would be left unturned in ensuring that the South Africa tournament is a huge success.
This, however, cannot be achieved when there are delays in the release of funds for the prosecution of the tournament. The nation's High Commission in Johannesburg should, as a matter of urgency, liaise with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) in ensuring that the nation's contingent experience little or no hitch while the tournament lasts.
The NFF helmsmen should also draw a line between a national assignment and a jamboree. At this stage of our national development, all hands must be on deck to repair our less-than-impressive national image.
All said, the national coach should understand that he is shouldering a huge responsibility. Without any iota of doubt, football is a uniting force for the nation's heterogeneous groups. After almost a 20-year wait for a Gold trophy (since 1994), Nigerians expect Keshi and his boys to give them a New Year present.