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African Cup of Nations: Pressure rises on Nigeria’s Super Eagles ahead of Sunday’s semi-final

By Benjamin Falanga
Posted on Saturday, 13 July 2019 13:00

Nigeria's William Troost-Ekong celebrates scoring Nigeria's second goal against South Africa. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

After several weeks of thrilling and surprising competition, the identity of the last four contenders in the African Cup of Nations (ACN) football tournament were revealed on Thursday. Nigeria qualified for the semi-finals thanks to a late goal against South Africa.

Among them, Nigeria appears to be an outsider with a serious chance of a final victory – boosted perhaps by the pledges of bonus payments from some of the country’s rich businessmen.

Continental ambition

The Super Eagles are known for their consistency at the continental level. Sunday, Nigeria will play its 15th semi-final in 18 showings at the ACN.

The Super Eagles most recently won the ACN in 2013. If they win this year, it would be their fourth top win at the competition for a fourth time. The surprise defeat against Madagascar represents only the second loss for the Gernot Rohr-coached team against an African side in three years.

Despite that good performance, the Super Eagles failed to qualify for the 2015 and 2017 editions of the ACN. That is why, despite their solid results, the Nigerians do not appear to be the favourites for the final victory.

Cheering to victory

Many Nigerians are rallying around the Super Eagles to bring the trophy home. After a short training strike by players to ask for their bonuses at the beginning of the competition, donations are now flowing in.

Each player has already received at least $72,000 in bonuses and donations thanks to the team’s performance in the continental tournament.

Money and motivation

Furthermore, Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, promised to give a $50,000 bonus for every goal Nigeria scored in Sunday’s semi-final against Algeria. Amaju Pinnick, president of the Nigerian Football Association, also announced that Femi Otedola, an oil tycoon, had promised to reward the side with $25,000 per goal for the remainder of the competition.

This popular enthusiasm demonstrates the importance of football as a factor of cohesion and unity in a country of more than 190 million inhabitants.

Winner of the Under-17 World Cup in 2013 and 2015, the youngest group in the competition carries on its shoulders the hopes of Nigeria’s many football fans.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has asked the Super Eagles to stay focused on victory. Coach Rohr admitted that it will not be easy: “We are happy and we have to recover well for the next game. Whether against Algeria or Côte d’Ivoire, it will be very difficult.”

Tough road ahead

Having beat Côte d’Ivoire and been dominant since the start of this year’s competition, the Algerian side is sure of its strength and collective skills. A replay of the 1980 and 1990 finals, this match will bring together two teams with diverging paths during the competition.

Four teams remain to compete for the trophy. Senegal will play Tunisia on Saturday before the Nigeria/Algeria match. Then the match for third place will take place on Wednesday 17 July, followed by the final on Friday 19 July.

Empty seats

So far, the tournament has had some disappointments. The quality of play has not always been high but the biggest setback has been the high number of empty seats at the stadiums in Egypt – which is hosting this year after the African football confederation took the tournament away from Cameroon due to its lax preparations.

Already memorable due to the higher-than-usual number of participants but also and above all thanks to the remarkable achievements of the Madagascar team, the 2019 ACN has a chance to be historic for Senegal, which is still looking to take home its first continental trophy.

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