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EVALUATING SUPER EAGLES’ POTENTIAL OPPONENTS AHEAD OF AFCON DRAW

By Bibian Onwugbolu, Port Harcourt

Except the Super Eagles are pitched against Senegal or Tunisia in the Pot 1 of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations draw ceremony holding on Friday, the team will certainly face a former champion of the competition.

The seeds for the draw were released at the weekend and Nigeria is on the second tier of the seeding.

The seedings were based on performances of qualified teams at the 2013, 2015 and 2017 finals as well as the in the qualifying tournaments for 2015, 2017 and 2019 and the March 2019 FIFA rankings.

There are six teams in each pot. Nigeria along with Morocco, Nigeria, DR Congo, Algeria, Mali and Guinea belongs to the second pot. It means that these teams will not be in the same group for the final competition.

Nigeria, like the other teams, will draw one opponent from each of the remaining three pots. In Pot 1 are Egypt, Ghana, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Senegal.

The Super Eagles will certainly face one of those six teams. Only Tunisia is strange to the Super Eagles in previous groupings of the competition. Both Nigeria and Egypt were in the same groups in 1963, 1980, 1988, 1990, 1994 and 2010.

it is recalls that in most cases that Nigeria fall into the same group with Egypt, the Nigeria side got to the semi-final or even won the trophy as it happened in 1980 and 1994.

It was only in 1963, the ancient past of the tournament that Nigeria failed to get beyond the group stage after drawing Egypt.

SportsDay recalls that in all other instances, Nigeria got within the medal zone as it happened in 1988 and 1990 – runners-up positions and 2010 – second runners up.

In fact, when Egypt beat Nigeria 3-1 in Benguela at the opening match of Group C of Angola 2010, it was the first time 48 years that the Pharaohs had beaten Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Nigeria and Egypt were in Group C at the 2010 championship

Another possible opponent of Nigeria in Pot 1 is Ghana. Both are traditional rivals and had fallen in the same groups in 1978, 1984 and 2006. Sports Village Square recalls that Ghana has never beaten Nigeria in any group stage of the competition, even the one hosted by Ghana in 1978.

Tunisia is the only team in Pot 1 that Nigeria has never faced in an Africa Cup of Nations’ group stage. The three duels of both teams in the Africa Cup of Nations’ history were at  the knockout stages.

It is also recalls that both met in the classification match of Ghana 1978. Tunisia walked out of the encounter after a goal by Baba Otu Mohammed, which put score lines at 1-1. The match was eventually awarded to Nigeria by a 2-0 score line.

They met again in the semi finals of Tunisia 2004 and quarter-finals of 2006. Both encounters were drawn. Tunisia excelled in the ensuing penalty shoot-out in 2004 while Nigeria came from two-penalty missed to win 6-5 at Egypt 2006.

Cote d’Ivoire was in the same group with Nigeria in 1980 and 2008 in Ghana. The 1980 encounter ended 0-0 while Cote d’Ivoire won 1-0 the encounter at Ghana 2008.

Cameroon fell in the same Group B with Nigeria at Maroc ’88. The game in which Nigeria scored their fastest goal at the Africa Cup of Nations ended 1-1. Both met again in the final match.

Senegal hosted the 1982 edition in which the Teranga Lions fell 1-2 to Nigeria in the opening match of Group A.

The Super Eagles will not draw any opposition from Pot 2 which also have Morocco, DR Congo, Algeria, Mali and Guinea.

Pot 3 has Uganda, South Africa, Guinea-Bissau, Zimbabwe, Angola and Burundi. The Super Eagles may be separated from South Africa as both emerged from the same qualifying group. The hard-playing Uganda may be a hard nut to crack. The only Africa Cup of Nations’ clash of both was in 1978 when a Philip Omondi-inspired Cranes of Uganda shocked Nigeria with a 2-1 defeat in the semi-finals.

Even then, encounters with Uganda have always been tough. The Cranes beat Nigeria 1-0 in a friendly match in 1981 and inflicted another 2-1 defeat in a 2008 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying encounter in 2007.

Even though Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994, qualification was almost aborted for Nigeria as Uganda put up tough resistance in a return encounter played in Kampala on July 17, 1993.

Nigeria conceded a last minute penalty kick, which the Ugandans lost. Had that penalty been converted, the Super Eagles would not have qualified for the 1994 finals let alone winning the tournament.

In 2015, the Uganda spoiled the celebration for Vincent Enyeama, beating Nigeria 1-0 in a match that marked the 100th cap of the Nigerian goalkeeper. Last year, the Ugandans forced Nigeria to a goalless draw in Asaba.

Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Burundi in Pot 3 have never faced Nigeria in any group encounter of the Africa Cup of Nations. Burundi however in Abeokuta, lost 0-2 to the Super Eagles in the qualifying encounter for Afcon 2000, originally to hold in Zimbabwe. That was before Nigeria and Ghana were redesignated as joint hosts.

Angola was in the same qualifying groups with Nigeria in the qualification for 2004 and 2006. Nigeria’s only encounter with Guinea-Bissau was on October 2, 1960 in the Kwame Nkrumah Cup tournament. Guinea-Bissau at the time was called Portuguese Guinea. Nigeria won 4-1.

Zimbabwe, the other team in Pot 3, was in the same group with Nigeria in 2006. Nigeria won the match 2-0.

Pot 4 has Mauritania, Namibia, Benin, Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar. Two teams in the Pot are debutants and had therefore never been drawn in the same group with Nigeria.

These are Mauritania and Madagascar. Tanzania, Kenya and Benin had been in Nigeria’s group before. Kenya shared the same group with Nigeria in 1988 and 1992.

Tanzania opened their Group A account with Nigeria in 1980. Should Nigeria draw the same group with Tanzania, it will be the first time a Nigerian coach will have his team pitched against Nigeria in the 62-year history of the tournament.

Benin Republic was in the same groups with Nigeria in 2008 and 2010.

THE AFCON TEAMS’ SEEDING:

POT 1: Egypt, Ghana, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Senegal

POT 2: Morocco, Nigeria, DR Congo, Algeria, Mali and Guinea

POT 3: Uganda, South Africa, Guinea-Bissau, Zimbabwe, Angola and Burundi

POT 4: Mauritania, Namibia, Benin, Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar

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