Six years after their last triumph and subsequently, their last appearance, the Super Eagles made a return to Africa’s biggest football showpiece. On Friday 12th of April, CAF made the groupings for the 2019 edition which will be held in Egypt from June to July, with a couple of changes made to the championship which the West African nation having won the covetous tournament three times.
Not only has the natural date for the tournament changed from January-February to June-July to avoid club/country clashes but also the number of participating teams have increased from 16 to 24 with Mauritania, Burundi and Madagascar making their first appearance.
Also, there is a return for the likes of Benin, Kenya, Namibia and Tanzania after a long term absence of 9, 15, 11 and 30 years respectively.
The draw which took place on Friday 12th of April 2019, at an arena facing the Sphinx and the Pyramids in Giza, Egypt saw the Super Eagles get two of the tournament’s debutants in an easy draw. Here we take a look at Nigeria’s group B opponents.
Last Appearance: 2015
Best Performance: 1975 Runner-up
Nickname: Syli Nationale
Players To Watch Out For: Ibrahima cissé (Fulham), Naby Keita(Liverpool) & Amadou Diawara (Napoli)
Coach: Paul Put
The West African country is making its 12th appearance at the AFCON having last appeared in 2015. Apart from the 2nd place finish back in 1975, The Syli Nationals have appeared in the quarterfinals four times 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2015.
For the 2019 AFCON, the team qualified from a group which had Central African Republic, Ivory Coast and Rwanda picking 12 points from possible 18. Failing to lose any of their 6 qualifying games to book the top spot in their group.
On paper, they look like the only team who should give Nigeria problems and probably qualify alongside the favourites in the group. Head to Head the Guineas have played Nigeria 17 time across all levels and have both shared 5 wins each with 7 draws.
It’s a statistics that shows that Nigeria has never had it rosy against The National Elephants and the last time both teams met in 2011, they ensured that Nigeria missed out on the 2012 AFCON with a 2-2 draw in Abuja
With Liverpool’s Naby Keita, expected to lead the team, they are not of the quality to upset the Nigerians
Last Appearance: None
Best Performance: None
Nickname: The Swallows
Players To Watch Out For: Saido Berahino(Stoke City), Gael Bigirimana (Hibernian) & F. Abdul Razak (JS Kabylie)
Coach: Olivier Niyungeko
One of the three debutants in the expanded format, Burundi can be classified as minnows on the African football scene but they have recently shown that perhaps there is a steady of football in the country.
In 2014, The Swallows qualified for the CHAN, while their U20 male team made it to the group stages of that CAF U20 tournament earlier this year, in 2018 their female counterparts failed at the final stage to qualify for the FIFA women’s U20 World cup in France losing to Ghana in the last qualifying round.
Burundi made it out of a group that had Gabon, South Sudan and Mali with 2 wins and 4 draws also qualifying unbeaten, although they placed second Mali who finished atop the group.
Although many may not know of the team’s strength and weaknesses, they, however, possess their own fair share of quality players who can get the win if the big teams do not come to the party.
Players like former England youth international and Stoke City’s Saido Berahino, Fiston Abdul Razak who has 17 goals in 35 National team caps as well as young defender Christoph Nduwarugira can pop up with crucial goals. However, with Madagascar also in the group, it is hard to see Burundi qualify for R16 even as one of the best third-placed teams.
Last Appearance: None
Best Performance: None
Players To Watch Out For: A. Andrianantenaina (Ludogorets), F, Ramanamahefa (La Flèche RC)
Nickname: The Islanders
Coach: Nicolas Dupuis
What easier draw can Nigerian football fans ask for, other than have two debutants in the group. With Madagascar drawn in group B, the Super Eagles will face two newcomers in the group stages.
Unlike Burundi, Madagascar took the hard route starting the qualifiers from the preliminary stages beating Sao Tome & Principe 4-2 on aggregate. In the final qualifying stages they were drawn in group A with Senegal, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea winning 3 games losing 2 and drawing the other.
Scoring as much as they conceded (8goals) The Islanders qualified alongside Senegal with a game to spare, parading a host of players plying their trade in France and it’s lower leagues,they have been penned as potential dark horses, more so with the current CAF president from Malagasy it’s left to be seen how much motivation the team will drive from that into their maiden Afcon Campaign.
All things being equal, the Super Eagles are expected to top the group with Guinea following closely behind but with Madagascar’s impressive qualifying campaign they may likely beat Guinea to the second spot but in any case, they look best as one of the best third-placed teams to go through to the next round. Burundi is least likely to pull an upset but can at best take the third place off Madagascar if they are to make any point at this tournament.