CAIRO – Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr says his team are not in the best physical shape to kick off their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) campaign against Burundi tomorrow.
The three-time AFCON champions are making a return to Africa’s football showpiece after missing out on two previous editions and played two friendly matches against Zimbabwe and Senegal in preparation.
But speaking at a press conference at the Alexandria Stadium ahead of their opener tomorrow, Rohr who was accompanied by team captain John Obi Mikel said that the match against Zimbabwe which was played in the rain at the Stephen Keshi Stadium left a number of his players ill and unable to train to acclimatize to the markedly different weather in Egypt, however he added that his team will cope with the pressure of being expected to win.
“We are used to the pressure and the obligation to make results and in the past three years, we have produced good results so we are cool. We are happy that we can finally start this competition because we have been together for three weeks now right from Nigeria although the raining season in Asaba was a little different from here [Egypt].
“We had a friendly against Zimbabwe under strong rain and so some us caught cold even me and so we had some sickness in the team. In the second week in Ismailia, half of the team was sick but now only one player has this problem and I hope that tomorrow everybody will be fit.”
Speaking about his return to the team after nearly a year away, Mikel said he’d always kept in contact with the team and towed Rohr’s position about the team being able the pressure.
“I’ve been away from the team for over a year now but I was always in contact with the team and I knew the team was in good hands,” Mikel said.
“Everyone thinks we are favorites but we are not looking at it like that we just want to qualify and then kick on and do great things.”
On facing AFCON debutants who qualified for the tournament in Egypt without losing a game, Rohr said his team would approach the game “with humility” and not underrate a team which qualified unbeaten in a group containing Mali and Gabon.
“We prepare all the time with humility, against an opponent who qualified unbeaten even Gabon and Mali couldn’t win against this Burundi team. We have watched their videos, they have a really good team and we have a lot of respect for their team but it is very important to start with a good result to open the tournament.
“They might be newcomers but we have the enthusiasm of a newcomer who have nothing to lose who can play football with a very good organisation so really it will be a difficult game.”
The Super Eagles open their Group B encounter against Burundi by 7pm Egypt time.