ALEXANDRIA – For a Nigerian footballer, there are fewer guarantees as cast in stone to achieving legendary status in football-mad Nigeria than winning the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title.
It is an experience that Super Eagles vice-captain Ahmed Musa has firsthand knowledge of, having been a vital part of Stephen Keshi’s victorious squad to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa and one he hopes his current teammates at the 2019 AFCON in Egypt will get to experience for themselves.
The sensations he felt as Joseph Yobo hoisted the trophy – Nigeria’s third – aloft at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg after Sunday Mba’s goal had defeated Burkina Faso, the subsequent heroic welcome the team received, the knowledge that he will for all eternity, always be part of the annals of Nigeria’s football history, the transformation from mere mortals into mini-gods that singular achievement conferred on him and his teammates are experiences Musa says, he tries to paint a picture of, in order to help his current teammates understand the transformations that would come if they emerged victorious in Egypt where the Super Eagles are on the hunt for a fourth continental title.
That triumph in South Africa which came nearly twenty years after Nigeria’s last in Tunisia in 1994 and thirteen years after Nigeria’s last appearance in a final in 2000 on home soil, was all the more gratifying as expectations weren’t particularly high about the chances of the Super Eagles who were returning to the competition having missed out on the previous edition in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon in 2012.
Nigeria finds itself in a similar position in Egypt, their presence at the 32nd AFCON being their first since they won it in 2013. Although, expectations are a little bit higher this time around after the team breezed through qualification and were then handed what seemed an easy group on paper at the time.
Nigeria’s footballing pedigree on the African continent is such that they would always be classed as one of the favourites to win the AFCON regardless of form or the quality and experience level of their squad.
But in reality, Africa’s football powerhouse have missed out on two consecutive editions of the Nations Cup and with an average age of 24.8 years (as at 11 June), the Super Eagles are the third youngest team at the tournament with twenty players appearing at an AFCON for the first time.
Viewed through this prism, it is perhaps understandable that the team is yet to really get going in Egypt where they have labored to two 1-0 wins over Burundi and Guinea in the group stages and the dose of harsh reality that was the 2-0 chastening loss to island nation and AFCON debutants, Madagascar in their last group stage game might not appear as shocking as it seemed originally.
And now, at just 26 years of age and six years on from South Africa, Musa finds himself a wizened member of the squad who together with captain John Obi Mikel and defender Kenneth Omeruo – the only other players that were part of the 2013 AFCON team – shoulders the responsibility of rallying his less experienced teammates and making them believe once again.
It is a responsibility which the former Kano Pillars and Leicester City forward who, as a callow 19-year old, played five times and scored in the 4-1 semifinal victory over Mali in Nigeria’s run to the title in 2013, embraces with gusto.
The Al Nassr forward now aims to drive his young inexperienced teammates to glory by constantly recounting to them, his experiences from 2013 in the hopes of implanting in them the hunger to conquer all and become immortal legends in their own rights.
“The only thing that you will contribute to the team is just to tell them the moment when we won the AFCON [in 2013] and the welcome that we got from home,” Musa who was a 54th minute substitute in the 1-0 win final over Burkina Faso in 2013 told busybuddiesng.com in an exclusive chat at the Helnan Palestine Hotel base of the team in Alexandria.
“So, we are giving them that moment so they will have it in their mind that if we win this one, we will still get the same thing. So, all the players want to have that moment that your name is written in the book so that is why you see we always talk to ourselves that we can do it, what we have to do is always believe in our own selves.”
The Super Eagles are next in action on Saturday, 6 July when they take on the runners up in Group F (to be decided later today) in the Round of 16 at the Alexandria Stadium.