Coach Stephen Keshi (L) with his captain Joseph Yobo addressing the media in South Africa
By Femi Solaja
After 17 days of intensive preparation in Faro, Portugal, the Super Eagles of Nigeria, finally landed in South Africa for the African Cup of Nations tournament which will commence Saturday in Johannesburg.
The team on arrival at OR Tambo International Airport at about 11 am Nigerian time, according to the Media Officer of the team, Ben Alaiya, was received by Nigerian Embassy officials and hordes of supporters who drummed away with popular Nigerian songs after long hours of waiting at the airport.
"We have just landed in South Africa now after 10 hours 20 minutes journey from Paris, the players though tired from jet lag but are eager to make a statement during the tournament,” Alaiya disclosed Thursday night.
The journey according to him was very smooth and shortly on arrival, the team made their way to Nelspruit, which is 35 minutes by air where they will kick start the campaign for glory from Monday.
The team spent two weeks in Portugal to intensify preparation, as they get set to win a third title which they last won in 1994.
Keshi on his part said the team will take each game as it comes, declaring that he was not under any pressure to deliver the trophy to Nigerians.
“But we have our personal targets that we have set and we pray that we are able to achieve them to make Nigerians happy,” he said.
He also regretted the absence of Newcastle striker, Shola Ameobi, noting that his experience would have impacted positively on the Nigerian side.
“We hope he will return when the World Cup qualifiers start in March”, Keshi said.
Team Skipper Joseph Yobo, again declared that all things being equal, the SA 2013 tourney should be his last.
“And I want to leave the stage by winning something for the team so that those coming behind will have something to look up to. We want Nigerians to support us and know that this young team has the ability to deliver but they must be patient with us and remain behind the team at all times,” he said.
Nigeria played four friendly games in Portugal, with two victories and two draws.
They forced a 1-1 draw with Catalonia, played a goalless draw with Cape Verde, and then handed a 1-0 defeat to Rotterdam, before completing their training tour with an impressive 5-0 win over Farense.
Super Eagles begin their Group C campaign against Burkina Faso on Monday.
Defending champions Zambia and Ethiopia are the other teams in their first round group.
However, the president of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Aminu Maigari, said the Super Eagles are at the AFCON to reclaim the trophy they last won in Tunisia 19 years ago.
Speaking on arrival Thursday, Maigari said the Eagles are battle ready.
“People have been talking about the chances of the different teams. It is nothing out of the ordinary. Some persons have gone ahead to name their favourite teams for the trophy. My own favourite team for the trophy will be the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
“We have come to the finals with a fine blend of experienced and ambitious competitors; only few of them have been at the Nations Cup before. But the bulk of them have been together over the past 15 months and blended very well,” he said.
The team, immediately checked into the Ingwenyama Conference and Sport Resort.
They will have their first training in Nelspruit Friday morning.
Meanwhile, MTNFootball.com reported Thursday that the NFF have backed down on proposed enhance winning bonuses for the players if they win the cup.
Head of NFF finance committee Shehu Adamu informed MTNFootball.com that there would be no added incentives for the Super Eagles to win the Nations Cup.
Adamu said that the football house would maintain the regular win bonus of $10,000 and $5,000 for draw in South Africa
"We are not preparing anything special as incentives for the Eagles. It’s the regular bonus they will get," Adamu disclosed.
The NFF had proposed huge bonuses that would have gone for as much as $30,000-a-man for a win in the AFCON final.
Such is the financial constraints facing the NFF that they have been forced to borrow cash for the country’s AFCON campaign after a Lagos court froze their accounts over a contractual dispute with Minaj Television.
The budget approved by the government for the Nations Cup has yet to be released to the NFF on the eve of the AFCON kick-off in Johannesburg despite assurances from top sports ministry officials.
"We are yet to receive the money for the Nations Cup and this has slowed down a lot of plans for the tournament,” a top official lamented.
“We are not even sure when the money would be released. We are only hopeful that it would come in on time to avoid hiccups at the games in South Africa,” he said.