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Counting down to Afcon 2013

There is no major African football competition going on around me. The African Club championships have been rounded off. There is no football at all going on in Nigeria.

So, I am thinking what to write about. My original plan was to re-start my countdown to Afcon 2013 a week before the start of the championship on January 19. By that time, I believe, those of us in the business of writing football will have seen enough of all the teams and their preparations to be able to make a better-informed technical analysis of the teams.

Also, the 'brave' among us will be in a better position to predict the results of matches before they are played. At that time I will do more than the 'dreaming' and peering into a crystal ball that I have done in the past few weeks, which fanatical Zambian supporters have found very irritating and annoying.

They have been so emotionally whipped up by any views that may suggest any other result than the outright victory of Zambia. Any such comment is considered a 'sin' and is reacted to with ferocious indignation. These past two weeks, I have been the object of abuses and curses simply because I dared to 'predict' that South Africa, and not Zambia, are the team I see on my radar screen as possible winners of Afcon 2013. I am thoroughly enjoying the 'game'.

Many Nigerians are also angry with me. I can understand their feelings. They wonder why my crystal ball is not 'seeing' the Super Eagles as likely winners. Unlike the Zambian supporters though, my countrymen have not crucified me. Instead, many have been complaining in muted voices but working very hard to complete the process of building a winning team to prove me wrong. Nothing will gladden me more. The good thing, however, is that many other Nigerians have learned to see it all as a game, an imaginary game-before-the-game, that I have been playing in my writings for decades. My predictions have never been accurate, so what’s the fuss?

That said, I have now decided to concentrate on Afcon 2013 and start my own countdown to the championship.

Nigerians and the 2013 championship

Nigerians cannot wait for the Super Eagles to arrive in South Africa in full force. That is the conversation everywhere now. Even the English Premier League and the European club championships, with several unexpected results and twists and turns, are now in the second division of conversations.

The Super Eagles are on every lip here now. Expectations are becoming higher. A few days ago, I was at the first official send-forth event for the Super Eagles, organised by Guinness, to unveil their national campaign materials in support of the Super Eagles . Stephen Keshi, the coach of the team, is now expected to round off his building process and announce his team for the championship.

The very impressive results against Liberia (6-1) and Venezuela (3-1) cannot be ignored and have become the source of renewed hope. I was reminded that when Nigeria was to win the 1980 championships, in which I was an active participant, the country defeated Liberia on the eve of the championship. History they say is about to repeat itself.

Hundreds, perhaps even thousands, are now preparing to storm South Africa and drown the noise of the vuvuzela with the singing and drumming of the Nigerian supporters club. Last Thursday night in Lagos I was a witness to an impressive dress rehearsal.

Any team that writes them off, or disrespects them, will be doing so at their own peril. Nigeria is a very physically strong and difficult-to-beat team, any day or place. That’s why Nigerians themselves are abandoning talk of anything less than winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. The drum beats are getting louder and louder.

The Super Eagles, irrespective of any theoretical analysis, will be going to South Africa with a relatively new team. There will be several unfamiliar faces. No one, least of all Nigerians, will be surprised if they go all the way to the finals. The team now has two incredibly fast and clever front players, making their Nations Cup debut at these championships. They can make a huge difference in these championships. The more I think of them the more I start to see some sense in the growing positive expectations of Nigerians. I say no more!

So far, what I have been doing since the official draws were concluded in Durban last month has been a purely academic exercise. My views have been based on gut feeling, history, tradition, and my own obviously biased filter. I don’t claim the power of clairvoyance, so no one should hold me responsible if my predictions fall short and eventually turn out to be as far away from the reality as Mars is from the moon.

But hear this. At the same time, I shall demand a public 'apology' from Zambians, who have made me the most 'hated' man in their country on the eve of Afcon 2013, if my predictions turn out to be right and the Chipolopolo are drowned by the sea of over-bloated expectations.

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