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Super Eagles seek 4th title as 34th AFCON begins

The attention of the sporting world will shift to Africa as the continent’s flagship football competition, the 34th edition of Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON)…

The attention of the sporting world will shift to Africa as the continent’s flagship football competition, the 34th edition of Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will kick-off today in Cote d’Ivoire.

Beginning from today till February 11, 2024, 24 teams including Nigeria’s Super Eagles will battle to outdo one another for Africa’s most coveted continental football trophy.

The Super Eagles are in Group A alongside the hosts Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau and will play their first match tomorrow against Equatorial Guinea. They will also face Cote d’Ivoire four days later, before their final Group A fixture against Guinea-Bissau on January 22.

Prior to the much awaited kickoff, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) had increased the AFCON Prize money by almost 40 percent, meaning that the eventual winner would take home $7 million. The runners-up will also receive $4 million. The quarter-finalist will win $1.3 million, while the two semi-finalists will each receive $2.5 million.

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The increase in prize money is expected to increase rivalry and competition among the participating teams with the Super Eagles expected to share in the largesse.

Dr Patrice Motsepe, President of CAF had earlier revealed that in the last two years, CAF had increased the prize money for its key competitions, including the AFCON while hoping that the prize money will help football in Africa grow.

With the ambition of the CAF president to see African football grow, Nigerians are expecting the Super Eagles to step up and make up for their past failures following their disappointing showing in the 33rd AFCON in Cameroon and their absence at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

This edition is the 20th time Nigeria will be participating in the biennial football competition and the Eagles are the most decorated in terms of overall medals won.

The Eagles of Nigeria have won it three times in 1980, 1994 and 2013 while coming second four times in 1984, 1988, 1999 and 2000 and had third eight times in 1976, 1978, 1992, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2019.

Records have it that in all the 20 appearances, Nigeria have scored a total of 137 goals with the late striker, Rashidi Yekini leading Nigeria’s goal chart with 13 goals at the AFCON.

Super Falcons AFCON group has the peculiarity of having a total of five AFCON titles, combining the three won by Nigeria and the two by Ivory Coast.

Guinea-Bissau has never advanced past the group stage in any of the editions it has participated in and has only managed to draw matches, with no victories in AFCON history while Equatorial Guinea have participated in three AFCON editions.

Nigeria’s most formidable opponent, Ivory Coast have participated in 25 editions and have been crowned champions twice (1992 and 2015).

With Nigeria chasing an almost elusive fourth title, Africa’s best player, Victor Osimhen said he is ready to break the ‘jinx’ in Ivory Coast.

“The most important thing for us now is to go to Ivory Coast and win the tournament,” Osimhen stated during the national team camp in the UAE.

“I believe in this group, we have a bunch of talented players to execute the job, fingers crossed and we are going to do so well,” he added.

The 25-year-old forward made his Africa Cup of Nations debut in the 2019 edition held in Egypt, featuring in a third-place playoff match against Tunisia.

However, he missed the last edition in Cameroon due to injury. In Osimhen’s absence, Nigeria returned empty-handed from Cameroon, suffering a shocking 1-0 loss to Tunisia in the round of 16 after impressing fans with remarkable performances in the group stage.

Having recently been crowned African Footballer of the Year, the prolific Napoli striker showcased his goal-scoring prowess during the qualifiers, netting ten goals to become the top scorer in consecutive qualifiers.

Similarly, Head Coach, Jose Peseiro is upbeat his team can emerge the best team on the continent again.

“My experience with the Nigerian national team is very good. Being part of African and Nigerian football is an interesting thing, and I cannot deny that.

“I told everyone that I wanted to win the Africa Cup of Nations from the first moment I signed the contract with the Nigerian national team, and we study our opponents well in order to win, and this is what we seek to achieve,” he said.

In a bid to bring home the trophy, President Bola Tinubu boosted the morale of the team and their handlers by approving $1.3million to offset the outstanding salary of Peseiro and all pending bonuses and allowances for the team’s 26 matches.

Similarly, the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, while speaking at the dinner he hosted for the team at the Lagos House, Marina, after they returned from their training camp in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), urged the Super Eagles to give their best to win the AFCON in Cote d’Ivoire.

He tasked the Super Eagles who were in high spirits to aim for glory in Cote d’Ivoire and give their best to bring the trophy home.

“You (Super Eagles players) are the country unifiers; there is an excitement in the heart of over 220 million Nigerians. We believe we have men that can do it for us. Believe in yourself, and don’t give up in Côte d’Ivoire.

“We can’t say we want to do it again by mouth; you must give your best, work as a team. It is not an individual sport; it is a team sport. Personally, I have committed myself that I will be in Abidjan for the games on Sunday and support the team.

“I want to assure you that our best wish is to do it for our country. We pray that God will give you the strength to do it. Winning the AFCON will be the best New Year present that you can give to us. It will be the best palliative that you can give to us. It will be the best of everything. We have to do it again. It has been 10 years; it is such a long time ago but we want it back into our country again,” he said.

With all the necessary support given, the Super Eagles of Nigeria, despite injuries suffered by key players like Wilfred Ndidi, Victor Boniface and Taiwo Awoniyi, are condemned to return home with the trophy next month.

 

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