Had Gernot Rohr won the 2019 African Cup of Nations in Egypt, football fans would have nodded their head, differ their caps, and pay tribute to the Franco-German manager.
Nigeria was one of the tournament favourites and many believed that generation of players had what it takes to win it.
But Super Eagles fairy-tale journey ended with a 2-1 loss to the eventual winners, Algeria in the semi-finals no thanks to goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi elementary mistake which allowed Riyadh Mahrez to slot his free-kick through Super Eagles' poorly arranged wall.
Given the pedigree of players in attendance and the general quality of football on offer, the 2019 edition proved to be one of the best AFCON ever.
Nigeria is on the hunt for its fourth AFCON in Cameroon and the odd seems to be against Super Eagles given the circumstances that characterized the team build-up to the tourney.
Why Nigeria Is No Longer Favourites
While host Cameroon is expected to host a tournament that will be largely free of administrative chaos after a series of postponements, Nigeria could be going to this year's edition to make up the numbers.
The reason behind this is not farfetched. The sacking of Gernot Rohr barely a month to AFCON 2021 kickoff will always hurt the players. To the players, it means they have to start afresh with new a manager who will be coming in with his own football philosophy.
The late withdrawal of top players like Victor Osimhen, Emmanuel Dennis, and recently Odion Ighalo means that ordinary Nigerian fans have no reason to feel excited despite having the likes of Ndidi, Iheanacho, and Chukwueze on the team
Super Eagles Weak Link
The duo of Olayinka and Awoniyi are heading to Cameroon as AFCON debutants and pitching such rookies against highly ranked teams like Egypt, Cameroon, Algeria, and Ghana usually come with a huge price. Had Emmanuel Dennis and Victor Osimhen joined the AFCON party, Nigeria's attack would have sent jitters down the spines of opposing defenders. The attack seemed to be Nigeria's weakest link at the moment.
The defence is not spared too; while Troost Ekong's dip in form this season could spell doom for the team in Cameroon. Ekong's best partner in crime, Leon Balogun pulled out due to injury, and Akpoguma was widely tipped to replace him. But Austin Eguavoen brought in an inexperienced Ndah from South Africa PSL. Another dependable defender, Chidozie Awaziem is battling with fitness. How Eguavoen intends to parade a watertight rearguard is another question begging for answers.
It won't be a bad idea if the FA and indeed Nigerian football fans forget about winning the AFCON, rather, the tourney should serve as a preparatory tool for Qatar 2022/World Cup playoffs .
The real proof of the Super Eagles' progress after Rohr's exit will come under severe test when Nigeria takes on Africa's best in the playoffs.