The Super Eagles seek a third African crown with a coach who has come under intense fire for his tactics.
AFCON Appearances: 15 (1963, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008)
AFCON Titles: Two (1980 and 1994)
Nigeria go to Angola knowing they have a great deal to do if they are to prove to the world that they are not a spent force in African football. After enjoying dominance in the 90s, when the Super Eagles qualified for their first World Cup and won a second AFCON trophy in Tunisia, the Nigerians have since suffered a decline in fortunes, missing out on Germany 2006.
Once one of Africa’s most feared sides, coaching and managerial/administrative problems have since conspired to render them incompetent at times.
Nigeria’s technical deficiencies were exposed during the last AFCON, where they lost to Ivory Coast in the first game, played out a goalless draw with Mali and managed a hard fought 2-0 win over Benin before succumbing to an inspired ten-man Ghana, 2-1, in the quarter-finals.
A once-great team quickly earned itself the derisive appellation ‘Super Chickens’ among many African football fans after their worst Nations Cup performance since crashing out in the first round in 1982.
Nigeria have since tried to rebuild after the Berti Vogts era by re-engaging the services of local coach Shuaibu Amodu in the German's stead. Winning nine matches and drawing three during qualification was not enough to calm the nerves of a country hungry for the all-conquering performances of years past, and many have criticised Amodu’s tactics.
Nigeria’s preparations for Angola have been overshadowed by calls for a new foreign coach to be hired. The Nigeria Football Federation has ordered Amodu to earn at least a semi-final finish if he wants to keep his job for the World Cup in South Africa.
The Super Eagles will play in Group C based in Benguela against back-to-back champions Egypt, Mozambique and Benin. They will face three tricky ties with opponents who play diverse kinds of football.
In Egypt they will encounter the organisational ability of North African teams but with Mozambique they will come up against a team that plays with the kind of flair football synonymous with South America. In Benin, Nigeria will come up against another West African side that are always spoiling for a fight and trying to overcome their larger neighbours' overbearing dominance.
The Nigerians will have to find their rhythm and hope that everything works together administratively for them to reach their goals in Angola.
Road To Qualification
Nigeria qualified from Group B of the qualification round ahead of Tunisia and finals group opponents Mozambique. Three wins and three draws made them look ordinary, and they will have a great deal to prove to critics when the tournament kicks off, as they look to show that they are able to hold their own on a continent where there are no longer football minnows.
Shuaibu Amodu comes to Angola with an AFCON bronze medal previously won with the Super Eagles at Mali 2002. In his third spell as Nigeria coach, Amodu has become a kind of saviour for the national team. It was he whom the administrators turned to when the Super Eagles faced elimination from qualifying for Japan/South Korea 2002 after the sacking of Dutchman Johannes Bonfrere.
His successful tinkering of the team ensured that Nigeria made the Asian World Cup party but he was sacked after the team’s bronze-medal finish at AFCON 2002. Were he to win the tournament this time around, he would surely make it difficult for his countrymen to end his dream of leading the side to the World Cup in South Africa.
He has been a consistent, hardworking player in the national team since playing his first tournament in Tunisia six years ago. The Lokomotiv Moscow striker was voted his country’s footballer of the year recently for his dedication to the national team and the vigour which he brings to his performances. All things being equal, Odemwingie should emerge as one of the stars of the Nations Cup.
Other big names in the team include Chelsea’s John Mikel Obi who has often been accused by Nigerians of having a poor attitude to national team call-ups. He will have a lot to prove during the three weeks of the championship.
Strikers Yakubu Aiyegbeni of Everton and Wolfsburg’s Obafemi Martins will also look to hit top form during the championships. They both scored goals in the last match as Nigeria nicked a World Cup place at the Kasarani Stadium in Kenya. Having both had recent injury worries, Nigerians will expect them to deliver the goals again when it matters most.
Nigeria know exactly what they want out of the tournament, and although a semi-final berth would probably be enough to keep the coach on for the World Cup approach, a title is the main objective in the minds of fans and players.
The Super Eagles do not look like the invincible team that they were in times past and will struggle against more attack-minded teams. The team already has an ultimatum set for it: make the semi-final or face a shake up. It does not look like a team capable of winning the tournament but it might yet have some fight in it.
Did you know?
Nigerian strikers Yakubu and Martins have scored 18 and 15 goals respectively for the national team. Their total goals haul of 33 is four less than the 37 scored by the country’s all-time top scorer Rashidi Yekini.