- Seyi Akinwunmi spoke out this week about how the Super Eagles will not be heading to this summer’s African Cup of Nations under the assumption that only winning the trophy will do.
As Vice President of the Nigerian Football Federation, Akinwunmi may have wanted to temper expectations in order to relieve some of the pressure on the players.
However, both betting markets and the quality of the squad reflect that Nigeria have a real chance to go all the way.
Nigeria have been drawn in Group B for the tournament that begins in Egypt on June 21st. Opponents in that group will be Burundi, Madagascar and Guinea, a group from which Nigeria should progress with relative comfort.
Akinwunmi would no doubt echo that sentiment, although he was keen to stress that the players would not be blamed for failure if it was clear that they gave their all.
The players named in the provisional squad have much to give. That squad includes promising talent in the shape of Samuel Chukwueze and Samuel Kalu alongside proven pros Odion Ighalo and Wilfred Ndidi.
The experienced midfielder John Obi Mikel has also returned to Gernot Rohr’s squad for the first time since he captained the Super Eagles at the World Cup.
A late Marcos Rojo strike took Nigerian fans on an emotional roller-coaster at the World Cup, with his goal sending Argentina through at the expense of the Super Eagles.
Tournament football is famously unpredictable. Sides can go from going through to going home in the blink of an eye.
Many fans prefer to use a free bet no deposit so that their punt is risk-free in case of a surprise early exit, with Nigeria available at prices of around 9/1 to claim the title that they last won in 2013.
Those who needed convincing about Nigeria’s genuine title prospects may have found their evidence in Nigeria’s 1-0 win over Egypt in March. Paul Onuachu, making his first start for Nigeria, bagged the winning goal after just eight seconds.
The powerful striker could be the focal point that the Super Eagles have been lacking, as well as a potentially interesting long shot in the betting market for the golden boot.
Hosts Egypt begin the tournament as favorites in most bookmakers’ outright betting markets, with the Pharaohs having won the AFCON a record seven times.
Egypt fare far better on their home continent than on the world stage, as well as being the last side to host and win the AFCON in 2006.
The outright market sees the likes of Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Nigeria in the chasing pack behind Egypt, with holders Cameroon not widely fancied.
However, Nigeria have no reason to fear any of those sides. Nigeria’s blend of experience and youth is normally a strong recipe for success in a major tournament.
While Akinwunmi may have publicly lowered expectations on behalf of the NFF, many fans will be struggling to contain their optimism as the tournament grows ever closer.