The 29th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations will get underway later today in South Africa and Nigeria's Super Eagles will be staging a comeback after missing the 2012 edition of the championship.
Although matches are billed for today as the host South Africa take on surprise qualifier Cape Verde in the opening match and 2010 host Angola take on Morocco in the second match of the day, the Super Eagles will have to wait until January 21 to take on Burkina Faso in the second match of Group C.
The Super Eagles will be aiming to win their third title having won in 1980 as Green Eagles and 1994 as Super Eagles. Apart from the two titles, the Super Eagles were four times runner up and finished third on seven times. This means that out of the 16 times that the Eagles have qualified for the championship, they have been on the podium 13 times. In 1963 and 1982 the Eagles got eliminated in the first round and in 2008, they were eliminated at the quarter final stage.
Although grouped along with defending champions, the Chipolopolo of Zambia, the Super Eagles are said to be favourites to win Group C which also has Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. Even as none of the teams in the group is a push over, the Eagles are favoured to top and progress from the group.
Those who have tipped Eagles to top the group ahead of Zambia have hinged their confidence on what they described as Eagles invincibility against the Southern Africa team. But this is not to say it is going to be a stroll in the park for the Coach Keshi tutored lads.
Since he took over the team in 2011 after spells with the national teams of Togo and Mali, Keshi who was the captain of the 1994 victorious Super Eagles has embarked on rebuilding the team. With the support of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, Keshi's team has played a couple of international friendly matches which provided ample opportunity for him to pick his players for the 2013 AFCON qualifiers and the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
On the road to South Africa, the Eagles played friendly matches against Catalonia, Cape Verde and some top clubs in Portugal and Holland. Drawing from the lessons of the friendly matches, the coaching crew has promised to work on the team's weaknesses.
At least 17 of the 23 Eagles in South Africa will be making their AFCON debut but that has not dampened their confidence. They are rearing to go so as to prove to their critics that the Eagles are back to its winning ways.
However, even as the Eagles have shown determination and commitment to the task of bringing glory to the country, allegations are rife that government authorities are deliberately plotting the fall of the team.
It is now an open secret that barring a last minute miracle, the Super Eagles would be in South Africa without the money that the federal government has approved for the NFF to use in prosecuting the championship.
As at time of press, the leadership of the NFF had not collected the N790m Nations Cup money which was to come to it through the National Sports Commission. What however set tongues wagging was the discovery that the same NSC had collected its own N220m for the same Nations Cup.
This development did not go down well with social critic, Alhaji Ahmed Shaibu Gara-Gombe who questioned vehemently why the NSC should get its money before the NFF which has the responsibility of preparing the Eagles and ensuring that they do well in South Africa.
"I want to confirm to you that the NFF does not have enough funds to prosecute the Nations Cup. Unfortunately, money has since been released to the NSC which has little or nothing to do with Eagles participation in the Nations Cup.
"I look at this as a deliberate attempt to starve the NFF of money budgeted for the Nations Cup and cause psychological problems for the players. In the end, the team will get distracted because this is not the kind of news the players and their officials would like to hear".
But when contacted, the spokesman of the NSC, Mr. Tony Ohaeri said the commission was yet to hand over the money to the NFF because it (NSC) had not received the said money from the accountant General's office.
He said the Commission would not deliberately hold onto the money that is meant for the NFF to use in prosecuting the 2013 Nations Cup. Ohaeri maintained that the commission had never indulged in such practice and will not start now.
Meanwhile, while the blame game continued, the countdown to the nations Cup did not stop and the tournament gets underway today in South Africa. With or without money, Nigerians expect the Eagles to put up a good show in South Africa. Eagles opening match on Monday against the Stallions of Burkina Faso will determine how far the team will go in the biennial championship.