After missing out the on last two editions of the Africa Cup of Nations since their triumph in 2013 in South Africa, the Super Eagles of Nigeria are back in the biggest theatre of African football for the 2019 edition and they will be out to make a mark.
Nigeria who finished top of their qualifying group with four wins, a draw and a loss in their six matches have been drawn in Pool B alongside Guinea and debutants Madagascar and Burundi.
Head coach Gernot Rohr believes it will not be an easy group as it looks on paper and he spoke to Cafonline.com on his expectations and plans for the tournament that kicks off on June 21 running through July 19.
cafonline.com: What are the chances of Nigeria in Group B which has Guinea, Burundi and Madagascar?
Gernot Rohr: We got a fair draw. You don’t get to choose whether it’s a good draw or a bad draw. We have good teams in the group. The Guinean team is a very strong side technically and physically with very good players as well.
Madagascar was a good surprise in the qualifiers and we can’t overlook them; Burundi are also here on merit having qualified ahead of teams like Gabon and so it will not be easy. Our goal remains to get out of this group.
Nigeria has missed out on two editions after winning the trophy in 2013. Now you are back, plus with some experience of being at the FIFA World Cup in Russia. Can Nigeria dream of winning this title in 2019?
I think lot of teams can dream of winning the trophy. We have the experience from the FIFA World Cup but again, we have a young team. We were the youngest at the World Cup and probably, we will still be the youngest at the AFCON.
We don’t have stars like in the past where Nigeria had the likes of Austin ‘Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, or Daniel Amokachi. We have to work with what we have and take a game at a time. I am hoping we can go far with this strategy. We have a young team and team work is our strength.
The AFCON has been expanded to 24 teams. Will this make it tougher to win?
It is a good thing to have 24 teams. It is the trend now in the world with the FIFA World Cup and the Euros all expanded and we have to expand African football. It is good to see new countries with some new enthusiasm and the different kind of quality they can bring to the AFCON.
How will you prepare for the tournament?
We have lined up series of friendly games against some renowned teams to fine-tune our preparations. We will have three weeks to prepare and I only hope the players will finish the season well without injuries.