Super Eagles on Cusp of Another AFCON Glory Today
When Super Eagles step out against Côte d’Ivoire in the final of the 34th Africa Cup of Nations this evening inside the 60,000-capacity Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara in Ebimpé area of Abidjan, two things will be at stake: Vengeance and quest to make a statement that Nigeria football has returned to the top of Africa.
Football aficionados have not forgotten the bitter memories of how Super Eagles lost the final of the 1984 final to Cameroon in that same city 40 years ago. Winning there will sort of wipe that sad memory.
Secondly, when Nigeria failed to qualify for the last World Cup in Qatar two years ago, the Super Eagles were derided as spent forces, living on past glory. Morocco’s Atlas Lions did the unimaginable, going all the way to reach the semifinals of Qatar 2022 as first Africans to achieve that feat. A win for Nigeria today will not only restore Super Eagles pride, Coach Jose Peseiro and his wards will walk out of that stadium with $7million cheque, the highest earning by any past AFCON winner
For Captain Ahmed Musa and defender Kenneth Omeruo, the only surviving members of Nigeria’s 2013 winning squad in South Africa, the feeling will be indescribable!
Musa, who scored against Mali in a 4-1 win for Nigeria in the semi-finals in South Africa 11 years ago admitted last night: “It is a feeling you can’t always properly describe. Winning the AFCON and touching the trophy is an unforgettable experience.
“Omeruo and myself experienced that when we won in South Africa (in 2013). But I want another one and he also wants another one. The good feeling and experience must be double double,” stressed the former Leicester City winger who is yet to taste action at Côte d’Ivoire 2023.
Omeruo, also very relaxed and in company with filial relations, corroborated the team leader: “We want that special feeling again – the feeling of being a champion of Africa. We have not gone this far to throw it away now. We have thrown everything into the six matches we have played here. We will give more than 100 percent against the Ivorians on Sunday (today).”
When Cote d’Ivoire hosted the competition 40 years ago, the Super Eagles also played in the Final match, but against Cameroon. The hosts failed to qualify from the group stage. That was an era when the final competition welcomed only eight teams.
Today, the tournament welcomes 24 teams (nearly half the member federations of CAF), making it a far bigger competition with so much glamour, glitz, grit and plenty of drama.
ROAD TO THE FINAL
Nigeria’s route to the final was not all smooth sailing. Super Eagles 1-1 draw with Equatorial Guinea began the race sluggishly for Nigeria. Eagles then defeated hosts Côte d’Ivoire 1-0 before again defeating Guinea-Bissau to finish on same seven points with Equatorial Guinea but inferior on goal difference.
Eagles sent rivals Cameroon home with a 2-0 defeat of the Indomitable Lions.
Angola came next and were given the same shock treatment of 1-0 defeat of the Palancas Negras in the quarterfinals. South Africa’s Bafana Bafana proved stubborn but ended returning to Johannesburg as semifinalists. After a tension soaked encounter that claimed the lives of five Nigerians, Super Eagles triumphed 4-2 in penalty shootouts to book a place in today’s final.
Two-time champions Elephants began their flight in flying colours, grinding out a 1-0 win against Guinea-Bissau in the opening match. Côte d’Ivoire lost their second group match to Nigeria 1-0 and were hammered 4-0 in final group game against Equatorial Guinea. Ivorians lived in suspended animation for 48 hours to know if they will qualify on just three points as one of the four best third place teams.
Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech’s goal two days later eliminated Zambia and sneaked the Elephants into the knock-out Round of 16. They barely survived defending champions Senegal 5-4 in penalty shootouts after regulation and extra time ended one all. In the quarter final, they defeated hard fighting Mali 2-1 . They also defeated DR Congo 1-0 to book their place in today’s final clash with familiar foe Nigeria.