•Uyo, Kinshasa venues to watch
From George Aluo, Uyo
The best of African footbal Like! That is what would be on parade this weekend as the race to Cameroon 2019 AFCON gets underway.
From the Uyo Nest of Champions where the Super Eagles of Nigeria and Bafana Bafana would do battle to the neighbours war between DR Congo and Congo Brazaville in Kinshasa down to the operation desert storm in Blida where Algeria would lay ambush at home for Togo, it promises to be fireworks all the way.
Of all the pairings, the Eagles, Bafana clash could possibly pass for the toughest given the soccer pedigree of the two nations.
However, Nigeria would go into the game as clear favourites if past meetings are anything to go by.
It would be noted that Nigeria has never lost a competitive match to South Africa at senior level, and the Super Eagles are confident that record will be sustained today in Uyo.
Stand-in captain, Ogenyi Onazi who spoke yesterday ahead of the match stated:
“It is a big game, and we are one for the big occasion. I have confidence in the group that we have now and the ambition oozing in the camp. We want to go to the World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations. Starting well on Saturday (today) will be key to our aspiration.”
Franco German manager, Gernot Rohr on his part believes the Bafana Bafana test would be his stiffest since taking charge. The coach who is yet to lose a match since taking over last year is confident his “rookies” would cope in the absence of big boys like Mikel Obi, Odion Ighalo and Brown Ideye who were not called up for the game.
“South Africa is going to be my toughest game so far. The boys are aware of this and so have to be at their best. We have prepared well and I m confident they will deliver. The new players in the team have to prove their mettle,” Rohr said.
South Africa coach, Stuart Baxter have been talking tough ahead of the game. The coach in fact boasted that Bafana Bafana would be Eagles nemesis.
Baxter, has told whoever cares to listen that he intends to make a winning start on his second return as South Africa coach, after naming a strong squad for the game.
The encounter is one in which Bafana would be led by a new skipper, Wits United defender, Thulani “Tyson” Hlatshwayo.
‘Wayo who took over from goalkeeper Khune says he would want to make a good start to his reign as captain.
In Kinshasa, the neighbours war between the two Congos would be nothing but the mother of all battles.
The 80 000 seater Stade des Martyrs in Kinshasa is set to be filled to capacity with the two teams out to get their campaign off to a winning start.
Two-time AFCON champions, DR Congo, have qualified for the continent’s showpiece on 18 previous occasions – including the last three editions, losing to Ghana in the quarterfinal stage last year.
Leopards handler, Florent Ibengé will have to continue doing without Everton winger Yannick Bolasie who is yet to recover from a long term injury, but the arrival on Benik Afobe on the national stage – the Bournemouth forward found the back of the net on his debut – has the DR Congo faithful excited.
Backed up by Cédric Bakambu, Chancel Mbemba and Jonathan Bolingi among others, the Leopards are a force to be reckoned with.
Congo-Brazzaville – 1972 champions – failed to qualify for last years tournament in Gabon, but Diables Rouges have been to seven AFCON tournaments in total.
They too have several exciting prospects in their ranks, but paired with Liberia, Zimbabwe and their neighbour rivals in Group G – Congo will have to be at their brilliant best.
DR Congo currently occupy 39th spot on the latest FIFA World Rankings, with Congo down in 85th spot.
In 27 previous meetings, DR Congo have accumulated 11 wins – suffering 9 defeats in what is usually a tightly contested dual.
In Blida, Algeria would host Togo conscious not to make the same mistakes that saw them flopping in Gabon early this year.
Midfielder Yacine Brahimi confessed that harsh lessons have been learnt from the disappointing outing at the 2017 African Nations Cup finals in Gabon.
Algeria were among the favourites for the tournament in Gabon in January but flopped in the first round, exiting without reaching the knockout stage and seeing coach George Leekens quit.
“Obviously, even if it is past, we have reviewed our previous games. It is always useful to analyse what we have done. And we realise we missed things. We must learn from our mistakes. Now it is clear that we have to look to the future. We must raise our head and our level.
That’s why we are 100 percent focused on the match against Togo,” said Brahimi in an interview with reporters ahead of tomorrow’s Group D game against Togo.
It will be the first competitive game in charge for new manager, Luis Alcaraz, who was appointed in April.
“I’m sure he will bring us many good things to the team,” Brahimi said of the new coach who he played under at Granada in La Liga.
Cranes of Uganda handler, says he is sure of a win as they face Cape Verde in Kampala, while Kenya would go all out to end their AFCON hiatus as they face Sierra Leone away in Free Town.