LIKE soldiers preparing for a major operation, the Super Eagles declared Saturday that they have sharpened their claws in readiness for Sunday’s first group match against the Stallions of Burkina Faso. The game will hold at the Mbombela Stadium in the North-eastern city of Nelspruit. It will be followed by an encounter between the defending champions, Chipolopolo of Zambia and Ethiopia.
The long-awaited 29th African Nations Cup, tagged South Africa 2013 AFCON, kicked off in Johannesburg yesterday with an opening clash between the host, Bafana Bafana and tournament’s debutant, Cape Verde. It ended in a goaless draw.
The coach Keshi-led Eagles had a closed-door training session yesterday before retiring to their Ingwanyama Resort and Sports Centre, where they watched the opening ceremony on television.
On paper, the Eagles are tipped to have an easy ride over the Burkinabe Stallions, who have gone to 17 Africa Cup matches since 1998 without a win, but team captain, Joseph Yobo, said that the team would put everything into tomorrow’s game as if ‘we are playing Ghana or Cote d’Ivoire in the final.’
Some concerned Nigerians have accused the Eagles of not showing enough commitment during national team action in recent past, but Yobo said that the team would do everything possible to put smile on the faces of Nigerians beginning with tomorrow’s first group game against Burkina Faso.
However, Yobo said the Eagles must be disciplined from the blast of the referee’s whistle till the end of the match, stressing that indiscipline was a thing of the past with the present team.
He said: “I think the discipline level is very high. We have a coach who is an ex-captain of the team and knows what it means to keep a discipline side. We are getting better and the issue of indiscipline in the Eagles does not exist in this team.“
Yobo is expected to pair with homeboy, Godfrey Oboabona of Sunshine Stars in the heart of the back four in the game against the Burkinabes following reports from the team’s camp that towering Warri Wolves defender, Azubuike Egwuekwe, is a major doubt for the clash due to illness.
Egwuekwe was missing when the players filed out for their accreditation process for the tournament with CAF officials at their Ingwanyama Resort and Sports Centre yesterday, but Eagles spokesman, Ben Alaiya, said Egwuekwe would be fit for the tie.
Alaiya said: “There is nothing wrong with Egwuekwe. He is just under the weather and should be fine for the first game.”
A jubilant crowd of supporters welcomed Keshi and the Super Eagles to South Africa on Thursday evening when the team arrived from their training camp in Faro, Portugal.
Yobo declared on arrival that all things being equal, the 2013 African Nations Cup tourney should be his last.
“And I want to leave the stage by winning something for the team so that those coming behind will have something to look up to.
“We want Nigerians to support us and know that this young team has the ability to deliver but they must be patient with us and remain behind the team at all times.”
After grabbing their ticket right at the death against the Central African Republic, Burkina Faso will be hoping to better their performance in the Nations Cup beginning with tomorrow’s game against Nigeria.
The Burkinabes made their debut at the 1978 edition and appeared at the 96 hosted by South Africa. They hosted the 1998 edition and also qualified for the 2000 edition co-hosted by Ghana and Nigeria. They were at Mali 2002, Tunisia 2004, Angola 2010 and Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 2012.
While the Super Eagles defeated the Lone Stars of Liberia 5-1 in Calabar in their last qualification match, the Stallions beat the Central African Republic 3-1 to qualify on 3-2 aggregate.
Some of the players the Burkinabes are hoping on to beat the Eagles in tomorrow’s encounter include Aristide Bance, Mohammed Koffi, Wilfried Dah, Alain Traore, Jonathan Pitriopa, Charles Kabore and Bakry Kone. The team is guided by Belgium-born former Gambia coach, Paul Put, and captained by veteran striker, Moumouni Dagano.