After the excitement of qualifying for 2021 AFCON, expectations for the Super Eagles to be champions of Africa again are not misplaced says SAMM AUDU
In 18 appearances at the AFCON, the Super Eagles have only won the tournament thrice.
The truth is that blessed with great talent Nigeria have under achieved even on the continent.
Qualification for a 19th appearance with two rounds of qualifiers to be played has sparked off excitement and expectations yet again.
This could probably be because the country missed out on the AFCON back-to-back in 2015 and 2017.
But it is also clear that the Super Eagles ought to be well past just qualifying to the AFCON.
Two years ago in Egypt, the team finished third in the competition – a record eighth time they will be doing so.
They were knocked out by a magical Ryad Mahrez free kick goal at the death as Algeria went all the way to be African champions a second time.
The reigning AFCON champions, Egypt, Morocco and Senegal will again be the top favourites to land the 2021 AFCON title in Cameroon.
The Super Eagles, on the other hand, have enjoyed stability since Gernot Rohr took charge in August 2016, but they are yet to win anything of note since then.
It is significant that the target for Rohr in Cameroon next year is for him to win the tournament and failure to do so may effectively terminate his contract.
With the depth of talent at his disposal, Rohr has to step up or ship out.
The emergence of Sparta Rotterdam goalkeeper Maduka Okoye as the Eagles No 1 has sorted out the goalkeeping crisis that hit the team leading up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
In defence, FC Porto fullback Zaidu Sanusi and Jamiu Collins from SC Paderborn in Germany have brought more quality and heightened competition for places.
Probably the big question mark is on the central defence where recently the ‘Oyibo Wall’ of Leon Balogun and William Ekong has been holding sway.
Can they keep out more proven and daring attacks in Cameroon?
Rangers ace Joe Aribo has provided creativity, versatility and even goals in the middle of the park.
The inclusion Michael Olise, Ovie Ejaria and possibly Eberechi Eze can only strengthen this department.
The attack remains the strongest suit of the Super Eagles with Victor Osimhen the one to be relied on to score goals.
Paul Onuachu proved in the AFCON qualifiers against Benin and Lesotho that he cannot be overlooked and he is a different type of option to lead the attack.
Kelechi Iheanacho has equally heightened the battle of the strikers with what he has shown in England with Leicester City lately.
And when you consider that Sadiq Umar (UD Almeria) and Term Moffi (FC Lorient) are also knocking on the door, you can be rest assured the country is spoilt for choices in this department.
However, the stagnation of Villarreal winger Samuel Chukwueze is a huge cause for worry.
He has not improved from the youngster who loves to take on defenders for fun.
Moses Simon and Samuel Kalu will also have to play more for the team than for personal glory, like Emmanuel Amuneke, Finidi George and Tijjani Babangida showed in the good old days.