Nigeria vie to reclaim status

JOHANNESBURG - Sunday's African Nations Cup final will either reawaken a sleeping giant of African football, or announce the arrival of a new one.

But for Nigeria, who were last crowned champions of Africa almost two decades ago, blowing this glorious opportunity to reclaim their long-lost status as an African football powerhouse will be such a cruel blow.

Never mind the impressive form of their opponents Burkina Faso ahead of tonight’s final, the feeling in the Super Eagles camp is that they have a very good chance of capturing their third ever African football title, 19 years since they last tasted glory.

Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, one of the Eagles’ star players, summed up the Nigerians’ desperation to claim the Afcon crown by admitting the West African giants “miss the trophy.”

Mikel was a six-year-old boy when current Nigeria coach, Stephen Keshi, then the Super Eagles skipper, lifted the trophy back in 1994 after a 2-1 victory in the final over Zambia in Tunisia.

“We have missed this trophy a lot,” Mikel said ahead of tonight’s final at the National Stadium.

“This is a perfect opportunity for us to rewrite those wrongs in the past. We shouldn’t get carried away though now that we are in the final. There is still one match to go before we are champions.”

The Nigerians are oozing confidence going into the final, being on the threshold of glory courtesy of an impressive 4-1 semi-final win over Mali on Wednesday.

Mikel, however, is slightly uncomfortable with taking the favourites tag into the final.

“We have to keep the patience we have had and keep playing the way we have, comfortable on the ball and passing it around well,” he said.

“It has also helped that we came into the tournament as underdogs. No one expected anything from us. We should carry on like that…as underdogs.”

Captain Joseph Yobo, the most capped Nigerian player ever, echoed Mikel’s sentiments.

“I can’t wait to lift the trophy,” the 32-year-old Fenerbahce defender said.

“I have done almost everything with this team but I have never won this trophy with then. We missed out on the last tournament.

“I have 90-plus caps with the team and I have enjoyed every moment I have put on the Super Eagles jersey.

“This would be a fitting farewell for some of the older generation s the young guys are coming up and doing well.” - Enock Muchinjo in South Africa

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