As the Super Eagles continue their quest to win their fourth Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) trophy this summer, we take a look at the obstacles that stand in their way from realizing this dream.
Ever since the draw for the finals tournament was made, most of the discussion has been about the group stages and the fixtures that it has produced – notably a mouth-watering match between Nigeria and Guinea in Group B. However, if the men in Green are to win their fourth AFCON, they will need to look beyond merely the group stage and towards the knock-out rounds.
What is immediately clear, from how the draw has played out, is that the Super Eagles need to do their best to top their group. While this is not an easy task, by any means, in a group containing Guinea, Madagascar and Burundi of Group B will progress to face the runners up of Group F – which is more than likely to be Cameroon or Ghana. There are of course a number of reasons why this is an undesirable scenario – not least because these are rivals to Nigeria. A much more favourable round-of-16 tie would be against the runners-up of Group A, which could be South Africa, Tanzania or Uganda.
For the sake of argument, let us imagine that indeed Gernot Rohr’s men finish runners-up in Group B, and are able to defeat Ghana or Cameroon for a spot in the quarter-finals. What happens next? The Super Eagles will then have to face the winners of the match featuring Group A’s winners (possibly a Egypt team featuring Mo Salah and Trezeguet) and 3rd C, D, E.
Nevertheless, should the Eagles win Group B and get placed in the top half of the draw, the potential quarter-final match-up would be against Group F’s winner or Group E’s runners-up. It is still a more attractive prospect than facing the Egyptians. Once again, it becomes important for the Eagles to win their group.
As a further incentive, should Super Eagles top their group, they will be placed in the top half of the draw and can benefit from a favourable draw that can see them with a fairly straight-forward path to the semi-finals. If things go in the way of Gernot Rohr’s side, they may find themselves with a spot in the last four. While both Ghana and Cameroon are of course strong sides, neither are typically considered as being on par with the Eagles in recent times.
To summarize, should the Eagles finish Group B as runners-up, their path to the final could be a round-of-16 tie against Ghana, a quarter-final match against Egypt, and a semi-final encounter with Senegal. On the other hand, finishing as group winners, Rohr’s men could see a round-of-16 fixture against Cameroon, a quarter-final dual with Egypt and a semi-final spectacle against Tunisia
Of course, it is true that all such fixtures are subject to change if the teams in the other groups do not finish as expected, but as the draw is structured, the Eagles will want to avoid the lower half of the draw. In this respect, starting on the right foot against Burundi come June 22nd will go a long way in securing an arguably desirable path to the final.