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AFCON

AFTER THE SCARE, SUPER EAGLES SET FOR OPENING MATCH

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BY MUYIWA AKINTUNDE

Nigerians were rattled by news from the Super Eagles’ camp last night. While still grappling with the report that many players reacted adversely to the weather condition in Egypt, they also got a more disturbing one that Bordeaux forward Samuel Kalu collapsed in training. Exaggerated stories followed in torrents.

But it turned out that the 21-year-old Eagle suffered dehydration during training and had been confirmed okay after treatment.

The Super Eagles, three-time champions, are expected to put that scare behind them when they face Burundi this evening in Alexandria.

Although they created an earlier panic among their critical fans by losing their last friendly to Senegal 0-1, Gernot Rohr’s team shouldn’t sweat so much over Burundi, who are making their debut in the tournament.

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Known as the Swallows in the War, Burundi were lined up against Mali, Gabon and South Sudan in Group C of the qualifiers and managed to win two matches and drew the remaining four to pick Egypt 2019 ticket behind Mali.

Their unbeaten run in that phase should however send danger signals to the Super Eagles and other teams in Group B of this AFCON. Burundi lost their last friendly to Tunisia 1-2 after playing Algeria 1-1.

In the other fixture of the group, Guinea will go up against another debutante Madagascar, the country of CAF President Ahmad.

The farthest Guinea had travelled in Africa’s No 1 tournament was being runners-up when Morocco lifted the crown in Ethiopia 1976 following a final phase round-robin that also involved Nigeria (bronze medalists) and Egypt.

Despite boasting an unbeaten run in the qualifiers (won 3, drawn 3) in a group that paraded log leaders Côte d’Ivoire, Cape Verde Islands and Rwanda, Guinea lost their last two friendlies: 0-1 to Benin Republic and 1-3 to Egypt.

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Madagascar were among the first set of qualifiers for Egypt 2019. In Group A with the continent’s highest rated side Senegal, the Barea proved they are up to the task winning three of the six matches after coming through the preliminary round by beating  São Tomé e Príncipe 4-2 aggregate.

In the friendlies for AFCON 2019 however, Madagascar lost two of the three matches (0-1 to Kenya and 1-3 to Mauritania) and forced Luxembourg to 3-3 stalemate.

In Group A, one of the 10 former champions on parade in Egypt 2019, DR Congo will step out against Uganda to start the campaign to win the title for the third time.

The last two times (as Zaire in 1968 and 1974) had been so long away that the present generation of football fans might have forgotten.

In the buildup to this tournament, the Congolese played two friendlies, each ending in deadlock: goalless against Burkina Faso and 1-1 versus Kenya.

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With hosts Egypt the next opponents after this match, coach Jean-Florent Ibenge and his squad will like to make the best of this opening fixture.

Uganda’s best performance in this competition is being runners-up way back in 1978 when Ghana hosted and won the title for the third time.

The Cranes may however prove ready this time going by their run in the qualifiers for Egypt 2019.

Uganda posted one of the most inspiring statistics –  four wins out of six matches with just one defeat to Tanzania, coached by ex-Nigerian international Emmanuel Amuneke.

Since concluding the qualifiers, Uganda had featured in the COSAFA Cup, the annual tournament for Southern African national teams organised by Council of Southern Africa Football Associations.

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They lost 4-5 to Lesotho and 2-4 to South Africa, both via penalties. Last Saturday however, the Cranes beat Côte d’Ivoire by a lone goal in their last friendly before Egypt 2019 commences.

Today’s fixtures…

Group A:

  • DR Congo v Uganda (3:30pm)  

Group B:

  • Nigeria v Burundi (6pm)
  • Guinea v Madagascar (9pm)

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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