Gernot Rohr has warned Nigeria to be wary of Africa Cup of Nations debutants Burundi as his side begin their bid for a fourth continental crown.
The Super Eagles won the most recent of their three titles six years ago but failed to qualify for the last two editions of the competition.
After topping a qualifying group that included South Africa, Libya and Seychelles, however, Nigeria are ranked among the favourites to go all the way in Egypt.
But Rohr’s men enter the tournament on the back of a 1-0 loss to Senegal – ending a year-long eight-match unbeaten run – and the veteran coach of four African nations is not taking Burundi lightly.
“But we are aware that at this point every team wants to establish its supremacy in the first game and so Burundi will not be an easy task.”
Burundi are considered an unknown quantity as this is their first taste of a major international tournament, having finished ahead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s Gabon in qualifying.
The Swallows are one of three debuting nations in this year’s competition, along with Mauritania and round-robin opponents Madagascar, with Guinea the other side in Group B.Advertisement
Like their opening opponents, Burundi saw their unbeaten run – stretching seven matches – come to an end in their final warm-up match, going down to a late goal in a 2-1 loss to Tunisia.
“We are ready to face any opponent in Egypt,” said Rohr, who has named a largely inexperienced squad.
“My major target now is to get the team to work as a unit and be psychologically prepared to win the first game against Burundi. Winning the first game is very important for the Eagles because it would instill more confidence in the players.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Nigeria – Odion Ighalo
Former Udinese and Watford striker Ighalo, who now plays for Shanghai Shenhua, scored seven goals in Nigeria’s qualifying campaign and was the top scorer overall in 2019 AFCON qualifying.
Burundi – Fiston Abdul Razak
Razak is not necessarily the most well-known face in Burundi’s ranks, with ex-Premier League player Saido Berahino claiming that particular title, but he was a key player in qualifying. He scored six times – second only to Ighalo – netting more than half his side’s 11-goal haul on the road to Egypt.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– This is the first encounter between Nigeria and Burundi in the Africa Cup of Nations.
– Nigeria are making their 18th appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations but it’s their first participation since 2013.
– Nigeria have reached the semi-finals in 13 of their last 15 AFCON appearances, winning the tournament on three occasions, including their last participation (2013).
– Burundi are one of three teams making their AFCON debut at this year’s tournament, alongside Madagascar and Mauritania.
– Cape Verde were the last first-timers to make it out of the group stages. That was in 2013.
– Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel was the top assist provider in the 2013 AFCON, his country’s last participation. He set up four goals for his team-mates.