Nigeria head to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt as favourites to get out of their group. The Super Eagles have a relatively kind draw with their pool – Group B – also containing Burundi, Guinea and Madagascar.
A glance at the FIFA World Rankings published in April has Gernot Rohr’s team third best in Africa just outside the top 40, with only Senegal and Tunisia above them.
According to the latest football betting on the AFCON finals, bet365 have Nigeria at 8/1 to go all the way and win it, which makes them the fourth favourites for the entire tournament and heavy favourites to finish first in their group. Only host country Egypt, Ghana and top-ranking African nation Senegal are reckoned more likely to be champions.
On what is the Super Eagles’ first appearance at the tournament proper since lifting the trophy for the third time back in 2013, they are fancied to do well at these AFCON finals, and with good reason. The group stage opposition shouldn’t give Rohr and the players any real problems. Burundi and Madagascar are ranked well outside the top 100 nations, leaving Guinea as the main danger to smooth progress.
Nigeria play the National Elephants second in their pool. Guinea are coached by Belgian boss Paul Put who was the mastermind behind Burkina Faso’s sensational run to the 2013 AFCON final, in which the Super Eagles prevailed.
“Africa Cup of Nations closing ceremony” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by GovernmentZA.
Rohr succeeded Put when he left Burkina Faso in 2015 but didn’t see the year out. The key game between Nigeria and Guinea thus has an additional subplot to it, not least because Rohr was considered by the latter for the manager’s role in 2016.
Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita leads Guinea on the field but is unlikely to play at the tournament because of the groin injury that kept him out of the end of the Premier League season and the Champions League final triumph for the Reds.
This key absence for Nigeria’s main rivals in their AFCON finals group only strengthens the Super Eagles and their status as favourites to win the pool. They clearly are the team to beat.
Burundi, meanwhile, have a former Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion forward Saido Berahino in their ranks despite some off-the-field issues. Their most potent threat, however, looks to be the Algerian-based striker Fiston Abdul Razak who scored six times in AFCON qualifying.
Like Madagascar, this is the first time that the Swallows have reached the tournament finals. The expansion of AFCON so that 24 instead of 16 nations advance from qualifying has certainly helped in both cases. That, in turn, has made it easier for more established nations in African football like Nigeria to get themselves to the tournament.
The Super Eagles have reached six of the last seven World Cups and, while they’ve never been beyond the last 16, their recent absences from AFCON finals are surprising when you consider that. Given market confidence behind Nigeria, this looks a great opportunity for them to go well within their own continental tournament.