LAGOS, January 7 – Even though Nigeria have won the African Nations Cup twice, they are regarded as underachievers considering the huge pool of talent at their disposal.Angola 2010 will be their 14th appearance at this tournament, where they have also been beaten finalists four times and finished third on five other occasions.
There are those who want the team to use the Nations Cup to prepare for the World Cup, while some others differ, arguing this is the best opportunity for the Eagles to win the competition and make up for their several near misses.
Over the years, the Super Eagles have been known for their attacking football. The current team are blessed with several top-rate strikers like Everton striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins from Wolfsburg, Osaze Odemwingie of Locomotiv Moscow and Victor Obinna, who features for Malaga on loan from Inter Milan.
However, Nigeria may well struggle to parade their best team in Angola no thanks to a growing list of injuries – top scorer in the qualifiers with four goals Ikechukwu Uche is ruled out as he is suffering from a long-term knee injury, while there are doubts over the fitness of Martins and Everton defender Joseph Yobo.
The heart of the defence has proved to be the Achilles heel of this team.
The handlers are yet to find a suitable combination in the middle of the back four. Yobo has played alongside Danny Shittu, Dele Adeleye and Obinna Nwaneri, but there is still no ideal pairing in sight yet.
All the same, they are expected to go past a first round group that includes defending champions Egypt, Mozambique and west African neighbours Benin.
"This is not an easy group as some would want us believe. I believe that Nigeria and Egypt, who are the defending champions and who have something to prove after they failed to qualify for the World Cup, will advance from this group," said head of the technical committee of the Nigeria Football Federation, Taiwo Ogunjobi.
"It was not easy for us against Mozambique in the World Cup qualifiers, both in Maputo and Abuja. They have proved they are a good side, same as Benin. And as a result we have to be at our best because no team can be taken for granted any longer."
The Eagles, who open their campaign against Egypt on January 12 in Benguela, may not be among the top contenders for the championship, but often that is what brings out the best from them.