Today marks one week since the first ball was kicked at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations now under way in Egypt, and the continental football showpiece already has its talking points – positive and disappointing.
Nigeria are quietly, but impressively going about their business.
On Wednesday, Egyptian talisman Mohamed Salah opened his account with a goal against the Democratic Republic of Congo – inspiring the hosts into the last-16 of the tournament.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe, who were tipped to make the knockout stages for the first time in their history, appear to be unable to shake the monkey off their back.
The Warriors, who arguably have the most talented group since the days of Peter Ndlovu, are third in Group A with a single point after two matches.
As a result, they now need full points against the DRC in the last round of group-stage matches to entertain any hope of reaching the top-16.
However, the team to beat at the moment appears to be the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
Considered down and out after missing the last two editions of the biennial tournament, the Super Eagles are flying high in Group B.
Their coach, Gernot Rohr, ensured that his side were the first to qualify for the knockout stages – following their two wins in as many matches.
Rohr’s men were convincing in their opener as they defeated debutants Burundi 1-0 at Alexandria Stadium, through an audacious strike from Odion Ighalo.
In the second round against Guinea on Wednesday, the Super Eagles met their biggest threat in the group.
But Rohr yet again prevailed with his calm demeanour, dropping skipper John Obi Mikel as well as youngsters Paul Onuachu and Samuel Chukwueze, while opting for experience of Ighalo and Ahmed Musa upfront.
That change of tactics worked like a charm as Kenneth Omeruo, one of the three surviving players – alongside Mikel and Musa from the winning class of 2013 – got their solitary strike that sent them into the last-16.
The Super Eagles’ bright start may not have sent a warning shot to the rest of their counterparts yet, but the Nigerians do look like a team which will go far in the tournament.
Back in 2013, a sense of prosperity engulfed the West Africans as they were crowned kings of African football under the guidance of former captain Stephen Keshi.
The “Big Boss” didn’t stop there as he led his side to the 2014 Fifa World Cup knockout stage.
But the wheels then came off between Keshi and the Nigerian Football Federation. The governing body sacked him in 2015, citing uncharacteristic “lack of commitment in his job”.
From there on, the Super Eagles missed the 2015 and 2017 editions of the competition.
But the NFF’s move to hire Rohr was inspired. He has ensured that the Super Eagles were the first African side to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, while they are yet to lose to an African side in two years since suffering a home loss to Bafana Bafana in the 2019 Afcon qualifiers in 2017.@Mihlalibaleka