By Tony Ubani in South Africa
Nigeria open their Africa Cup of Nations account as clear favourites in their group C clash against Burkina Faso in Nelspruit today.
The Super Eagles will no doubt be looking for successful return to the tournament after missing out on the last edition in Gabon and Equitorial Guniea.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi has brought a new-look side to this year’s finals, with only a handful of his team having competed at the continental showpiece before.
However, he will be able to count on the experience of captain Joseph Yobo, who takes part in a record sixth AFCON for the Super Eagles.
Expect the ever present John Obi Mikel to control the game from midfield with Chelsea team-mate Victor Moses providing the width in attack.
Newcastle forward Shola Ameobi is the most notable absentee for Nigeria, having chosen not to represent the country of his birth after playing for England at youth level.
Keshi said of the situation: “I was very impressed with him and he would have added a lot to our team.
“But we can’t dwell on the players who are not here. We have selected a group of very talented players who are ready to give their all for their country and I believe in these boys to do what they are asked to do.
“Burkina Faso are the team in front of us now, and we are prepared. The boys want to do their best and want to do their country proud.”
The Stallions of Burkina Faso will offer a stern test in their opening match and will look to bounce back from their disappointing showing at their last AFCON in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea where they went out in the group stages after losing all their games.
Jonathan Pitroipa is the player most likely to give Nigeria problems, and with his creativity and pace in midfield, the Rennes attacker is more than capable getting the better of defences on his day.
Moumouni Dagano and Alain Traore are expected to start alongside Pitroipa in midfield and will have to play well if the Stallions are to have any chance of pulling off an upset