In the highly anticipated Africa Cup of Nations Final taking place on Sunday, Nigeria's national team, the Super Eagles, have an extra internal motivation to secure victory against hosts Côte d'Ivoire. While several teams have made more final appearances in the tournament, with Egypt and Ghana leading the way, Nigeria seeks to surpass their rivals and claim their fourth title.
Despite being considered one of the powerhouses of African football, Nigeria currently lags behind in terms of tournament wins. Egypt has an impressive seven titles, Cameroon has clinched five (three of which were against Nigeria), and Ghana has four. In contrast, the Super Eagles have only managed to secure three championships, a fact that is seen as somewhat embarrassing.
The ongoing banter between Nigeria and Ghana adds to the desire for victory. The Ghanaian team last won the tournament over four decades ago in 1982, yet their fans continue to use that slight edge to taunt their Nigerian counterparts. Therefore, tying with Ghana and surpassing Cameroon would provide solace for the Super Eagles and their fans.
Additionally, Nigeria has a unique chance to produce players who have won multiple Africa Cup of Nations titles. Thus far, no player from Nigeria has secured two winners' medals due to the significant gaps between their tournament victories. The late Stephen Keshi came close, winning as a player in 1994 and as a coach in 2013. Now, with captain Ahmed Musa and defender Kenneth Omeruo, who were part of the 2013 winning squad, poised to play a vital role in Sunday's final, they can potentially become the first Nigerians to achieve this feat.
For Musa and Omeruo, who would both be playing in their fourth Africa Cup of Nations tournament, winning the trophy again would be a remarkable accomplishment. Musa, Nigeria's all-time top scorer at the FIFA World Cup, expressed the indescribable feeling of winning the tournament and the desire to experience it once more. Omeruo, who was unfortunately injured for most of the 2013 campaign, echoed Musa's sentiments, emphasizing the team's determination to give their all against Côte d'Ivoire.
While the personal achievement of a double win for Musa and Omeruo is significant, it remains secondary to the overall goal of winning the tournament for their country and each other. Their focus is unwavering, and they understand the importance of bringing glory to Nigeria.
A victory in the final would not only be a momentous occasion for the players but also for their coach, Jose Peseiro. After a 32-year coaching career, Peseiro is still searching for a major trophy. Although he came close in 2005 with Sporting Lisbon in the UEFA Cup, losing in the final, he did experience success in 2013, winning the Taça da Liga with Sporting Braga. If he were to guide Nigeria to victory in the Africa Cup of Nations in the same year, it would be a poetic repeat of success.
As the Super Eagles prepare for the final, one injury concern lingers. Left back Zaidu Sanusi, who missed the semifinal, remains doubtful. Peseiro and the medical team will assess his condition before making a decision.
Off the field, steps have been taken to eliminate distractions for the Nigerian players. In the past, government officials and corporate figures have made promises to motivate the team, but these attempts rarely yield positive results. To ensure the players' concentration and focus remain undisturbed, the Nigerian Football Federation has taken precautions, limiting frivolous visits to the team camp.
Former Nigeria player and top goal-scorer Segun Odegbami emphasizes the importance of maintaining a distraction-free environment for the squad. The national team's success is of utmost importance, and the support of the entire nation is crucial in achieving victory.
As Nigeria faces Côte d'Ivoire in the Africa Cup of Nations Final, the Super Eagles aim to rectify their underachievement in recent tournaments. With the chance to surpass rivals and produce players who have secured multiple titles, Nigeria's motivation is undeniable. The team, alongside their coach, seeks to make history and bring glory to their homeland.