- Title: NIGERIA: FOOTBALL/SOCCER - Nigeria's Super Eagles set for AFCON kick off.
- Date: 2nd January 2013
- Summary: ABUJA, NIGERIA (RECENT) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF PLAYERS DRIBBLING BALL
- Embargoed: 17th January 2013 12:00
- Location: Nigeria
- Country: Nigeria
- Topics: Sports
- Reuters ID: LVA50U4KPKOPN4WVPI8N2MA3TM4B
- Story Text: Nigeria's national football team, the Super Eagles, are getting ready to battle it out for the 2013 African Cup of Nations cup, set to kick off in South Africa on January 19th.
The biennial event will see 16 nations participating at the continent's foremost football tournament.
The Super Eagles have been in rigourous training for weeks hoping to scurry fears that they may not do well after past failures in recent years.
Nigeria failed to qualify for last year's cup due to poor preparation, analysts said, leaving fans disappointed.
The team won its last tournament in 1994 and has been placed in group C, with champions, Zambia, putting their performance in the spotlight.
Nigeria will play its opening match on January 21 against Burkina Faso.
Stephen Keshi the Super Eagles head coach has named a 31-man-squad made up of many new players. The strategy has generated controversy with questions raised on why Keshi left out foreign stars like Osaze Odemwinge, who has gone on to vent his frustrations on social media.
Twenty three players will later be selected for the final squad that will represent Nigeria.
Keshi took over in 2011 after his predecessor, Samson Siasia was fired for failing to get his team to qualify for the 2012 games.
The new coach says he is working to produce a powerful team that can bring that trophy home but admits that they are faced with some tough challenges.
"Now the problem we are having for the home based player is lack of a league, it's a problem, they've been out for like four months but they are still up there the ones that are up there are still up there, all we need to do is just you know, pump them with some matches, some friendly matches. They all understand what we want because they've been with us for one year so it's not going to make too much difference. Building the team around the home based player doesn't mean that we will take 20 home based players to the Nations Cup; it doesn't mean that we will take 20 foreign based players. We just want to get who is who to represent Nigeria and that is all," said Keshi.
Most home based players are in the Nigerian Premier League (NPL) and have complained about football mismanagement in the country, saying they have not been paid salaries in months.
Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi recently said all the issues in the league must be resolved before the next season begins.
Keshi has also called on the ministry of sports to improve access to better training facilities as well as welfare support.
"The pitch is terrible; the pitch there is nothing to write home about. It is hard and it is not good for us. I mean, every time, Nigerians want to see Super Eagles but we don't have a football pitch where we can practice, so that is the biggest challenge because after practice, you see some of my players are having leg pains and all these stuff because the field is hard. Nobody is doing anything," said Keshi.
The young players say they are optimistic and are working on strategies that will see them reclaim their lost glory.
Gommon Duke, a home based player with Bayelsa United, will be representing his country at the tournament.
"As a competition we are going for a very very important so for now we have to take everything step by step so I believe by the grace of God we will get to where we are going to," he said.
Analysts say that the Super Eagles have already crossed one major hurdle to qualify for this year's games, and now the players need to have their dues paid and issues addressed if they are to do a good job in South Africa.
The December FIFA rankings saw the Super Eagles ending 2012 on an encouraging note as they moved five steps forward to finish the year on the 52nd spot and are currently ranked 10th in Africa.
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