Despite being tagged overwhelming favourites in their group, history shows that the Super Eagles less-fancied opponents could prove to be the spoke in their wheel of success at the 2019 AFCON in Egypt, reports ’TANA AIYEJINA
Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr couldn’t have asked for a better draw when the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations draw ceremony took place in Cairo, Egypt, on April 12.
Before the colourful draw ceremony, the German gaffer had voiced his satisfaction at avoiding hosts Egypt after three-time African champions Super Eagles were seeded in Pot A alongside Egypt, Senegal, Tunisia and Morocco
That ruled out a face-off between the Eagles and the continent’s big guns in the early stages of the tournament, which holds from June 21 to July 19.
Again, Rohr was also wary of being drawn against former winners Algeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana, who were all placed in Pot B.
“We are in the same pot; so, we cannot meet Egypt. Because when you play the host country, it’s always very difficult,” Rohr stated in a short video interview posted on the Confederation of African Football’s Twitter handle.
“It becomes more difficult when you have a team like the one you have here in Egypt. But when you see in the Pot 2 all the teams can win it. You have Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast — all big teams.
“Even in the third pot, you have South Africa and some other teams like that who can win it. Really, you have in this tournament the best teams in Africa.”
So, when Guinea alongside debutants Burundi and Madagascar were unveiled as the Eagles opponents in Group B of the tournament, it was a welcome gift of sorts for the Eagles, who had failed to qualify for the last two editions of the competition after winning it in their last outing in 2013.
Even Guinea captain Ibrahima Traore labelled the Eagles as the clear favourites in Group B.
“At first glance, we already see who the favourite is. There is no need to delude yourself; Nigeria, with the power they have, the history they have,” Traore, who plays for Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga, told foot224.com.
They are regulars in the African Cup; they are even used to winning. They are a team that plays at the World Cup. Therefore, I think Nigeria is the favourite.”
But Rohr is cautious and insists that his side is pitted in a tough pool even though he would be happy not to have been placed in Group D, labelled as the “group of death ” with three former champions, Morocco, Ivory Coast and South Africa, as well as Namibia
“It (Group B) is a tough group and we have to be at our best and our fittest. Guinea has a young, tough team and we will have to be at our best against them. Burundi eliminated Gabon even with their Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang,” he said immediately after the draw.
The AFCON’s new and expanded 24-team format is seen by many to have paved the way for some of the continent’s smaller sides such as newcomers Burundi, Madagascar and Mauritania, as well as Namibia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Tanzania, who ended a 39-year absence, and East African giants Kenya, to contest for honours at the biennial competition.
Tunisia 1994 AFCON winner Edema Fuludu believes the expanded format might affect the quality of play in Egypt.
“I think for us in Africa, we just want to follow the trend,” Fuludu said, already ruing the quality of play in Egypt.
“I think if they are expanding the World Cup and the Euros, we also have to follow the trend. However, at the end of the day, the quality of what comes out of the competition will not be commendable.
“The bottom line is that more participation should generate more interest in the African game. That’s the aim but we may not get top-class quality as per the games that would be played.”
As easy as the Eagles group looks, it could turn out to be a banana peel, rather than an easy ride to the later stages of the competition.