- Ighalo Breaks Jinx
When Odion Ighalo scored Super Eagles lone goal winner over Burundi in Alexandria on Saturday night, it was the first time Nigeria will win its opening group match of the tournament since 2006 when the Nigeria defeated Ghana Black Stars in Port Said, Egypt. The opening matches of Ghana 2008 and 2010 ended in defeat against Nigeria by a lone goal to Côte D’Ivoire in Sekondi and 1-3 to Pharaohs of Egypt in Angola. However the team pulled a 1-1 scoreline against Stallions of Burkina Faso in Nelspruit in South Africa 2013 but still went all the away to win the tournament. Since then Nigeria missed the last two editions before returning to Africa’s football showpiece on Saturday.
* Amuneke Equals Keshi’s Record
When former African Footballer of the Year and winner of the tournament with Nigeria in 1994, Emmanuel Amuneke led the Taifa Stars of Tanzania to their opening group match against Teranga Lions of Senegal, he became the second Nigerian coach to have won the tournament as a player and coached a foreign country at the tournament after Late Stephen Keshi led Hawks of Togo to the tournament in 2006 in Egypt.
*Mikel Obi, Two Others Return to Egypt
Of the 552 players registered for the 32nd AFCON tournament going on in Egypt, only three players were there 13 years ago when Egypt staged the continental showpiece in 2006. While Captain John Obi Mikel is the only surviving member of the Nigerian team, the other two players who returned to the Land of Pharaohs are Carlos Kameni of Cameroon and Tresor Mputu of DR Congo. Mikel now 32 and perhaps is his last show at the tournament, Kameni is 35 years old and last appearance at the tournament was in 2010. Mputu now 33 and is still playing for local side TP Mazembe. He had a two-year spell in Angola’s Kabuscorp from 2014-16 before returning home to play for Les Corbeaux.
*Indomitable Lions Avoided Nigeria’s No-Show Record
Defending champions Cameroon made a last minute arrival at the tournament at the weekend, although CAF regulation stipulates that all teams to be on ground five days to the opening match of the competition. Had Cameroon players failed to show up over dispute on outstanding match bonuses, they would have equaled Nigeria’s unenviable record of a defending champion that boycotted the next edition. Nigeria, winners in 1994 failed to travel to South Africa because of political issues between the two country and were sanctioned by CAF and thus missed the next edition in 2008 in Burkina Faso.
*South Africa Beat Others in Home League Players
Former champions, Bafana Bafana of South Africa have the highest number of home-based players registered for the tournament. The Rainbow nation registered 17 players from the domestic league for the tournament and followed by host Egypt with 15 and Tanzania 14 and Angola, Tunisia and Namibia followed with 12, 9, and 9 respectively. However, while others are competing at the top, Nigeria alongside Guinea Bissau, Ghana and Algeria presented only one local player. Only Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Burundi and Guinea with no local player in the mix.
*Morocco Joins Nigeria With Most Debutant Players
Just like Super Eagles of Nigeria did five years ago in South Africa when Late Stephen Keshi paraded the most debutant players to the tournament, Morocco, one of the favourites to win the tournament have lined up nine players who are debutants to defend the honour of their nation. The Rookies in the team included Hakim Zyech, Oussama Idrissi, Abdelkarim Baadi, Mehdi Bourbiaa, Yunis Abdehamid, Ahmed Reda, Soufiane Boufal and Achraf Hakim. A very ambitious team will square up against Namibia, Côte d’ Ivoire and South Africa in Group D.