It’s the moment that many fans have been waiting for, that hour when their beloved Super Eagles open their 2013 Africa Cup of Nations campaign in Nelspruit.
I arrived in Johannesburg at midnight on Sunday having travelled via Nairobi courtesy of Kenya Airways.
It is chilly in Johannesburg this time of year. It has been raining and so evenings are cold, but not cold enough to dampen the spirits of the fans who have arrived in the rainbow country to cheer their teams to victory.
From Ethiopian fans who are happy to return to the Afcon after more than three decades, to Nigerien fans who are making a consecutive return to the tournament, everyone has come in with lots of anticipation.
An Algerian fan asked me for a lighter at the airport entrance as he tried to shake off the cold. The chants of the boisterous band of arriving Fennecs supporters this morning held the airport spellbound.
The Rainbow Nation has been caught in the buzz of football once again. However, this time it is not as big as during the 2010 World Cup when the attention of the whole world was beamed on Africa.
The team that feels the most pressure at the moment is Bafana Bafana. Many locals do not see them going far in the tournament after they drew their opening game against Cape Verde on Saturday.
A few fans are still hopeful though. A TV anchor on SABC 2 prayed that the boys should at least score “a freak goal” in their next game against Angola in order to get through to the quarter-finals. Such is the apprehension that has trailed their performance.
But it is the Nigerian team that opens its campaign on Monday evening that my attention turns to. I’ve run into lots of Nigerians wearing their country’s green and white jerseys ahead of the game. At the Johannesburg Park Station, they milled around waiting for transportation to Mbombela.
One particular fan carried a white chicken sprayed with green, something he claimed is a good luck charm to help Nigeria win. He was denied the opportunity of taking the animal into the stadium during Nigeria’s opening game at the World Cup against Argentina – the Super Eagles lost that encounter.
He hopes that the police would allow him to take the ‘super’ chicken inside the stadium for this game against Burkina Faso. It could be just what the boys need to be lucky.
There was a great deal of chanting by the eager Nigeria fans as we arrived in Nelspruit. But they have to wait before their game starts. Defending champions Zambia lead the way with their match against Ethiopia.
We wait to see if the Eagles will soar again.
Daniel was not allowed to bring in the chicken by the police who cited "cruelty to animals" for their decision. Needless to say, the Eagles lost their advantage and drew 1-1 against Burkina Faso.