Why Nigeria will not win the African Nations Championship
Nigeria's Super Eagles arrived in Rabat, Morocco on Tuesday, a week ahead of the African Nations Championship kickoff.
Prior to their departure, coach Salisu Yusuf assured Nigerians that his wards were determined to bring the trophy home, with goalkeeper Dele Ajiboye one of several players who shared the coach's optimism.
As commendable as this show of confidence is, it will not be the first time the Super Eagles have blown their own trumpet ahead of one of Africa's major tournaments.
Chigozie Agbim was equally boastful ahead of the 2014 tournament in South Africa, and just before the last tournament, Nduka Ugbade bragged that the Super Eagles would return as champions.
On both occasions, the team came back home without the trophy.
As they head into the competition this weekend, Nigeria fans ought to keep their predictions and expectations modest, due to these three reasons which should prevent the Eagles from winning the tournament.
Lack of Pedigree
There have been four previous CHAN tournaments, beginning with the inaugural edition in 2009, and Nigeria haven't shone in any...in fact, their performance at Africa's competition for home-based players has been distinctly underwhelming.
The Eagles failed to qualify for the first two, losing the 2009 qualifying playoff to Ghana and then the 2011 playoff to Niger.
When they did qualify for the first time in 2014, Stephen Keshi's team finished third with a 1-0 win over Zimbabwe in the bronze medal match, but their run wasn't as inspiring as expected.
Finishing second behind Mali in the group phase, they beat Morocco 4-3 in a thrilling quarter-final game before falling on penalties to Ghana in the semi.
In 2016, they failed to make it out of the group stage, finishing a point behind both Tunisia and Guinea.
Their elimination was even more distressing because they only needed a point in their final group game against the Syli Nationale in order to advance, but lost the game 1-0.
Despite the chest-thumping, and Nigeria's standing in African football, this lack of pedigree at this level will be tough to overcome.
On the bright side for the Super Eagles, only one former champion qualified for this year's tournament -- 2014 champions Libya -- but guess who they've been drawn against?
Then there are three-time participants and hosts Morocco, Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea, who finished third and fourth respectively in 2016.
The field is not impossible to overcome, but Nigeria's lack of pedigree could hurt them.
Nigeria's domestic league wrapped up in early September, and since then, players have been on break. This includes members of the Super Eagles CHAN squad, who have seen no league action for four months.
This is contrast to many of their title rivals whose domestic competitions have been in full swing during the months leading up to the tournament.
Training and friendly matches are no substitute for competitive, high octane matches with an edge, and it's this competitive edge that the Eagles could lack when their campaign begins against Rwanda.
A slow start will be no surprise, but could prove expensive, as their second game would be against Equatorial Guinea, fielding almost the same squad that took part in recent A qualifying games, before a final showdown with former champions Libya.
For a team with players lacking in competitive football, better preparation should have been expected, but that has hardly been the case with Nigeria, particularly with some of the players having their eye on a European transfer during the offseason.
For what it's worth, they did take part in the WAFU tournament last year, but there, their lack of regular action was an exploited hindrance during the early stages, and then brutally exposed by Ghana in the final.
Playing against even rustier opposition in the NPFL pre-season tournament, they came out winners, but considering the level of league football and friendly internationals being played by their potential title rivals, it does look a difficult road ahead.
It is entirely possible that the Nigerian team, with their strong character and never-say-die attitude, can overcome these challenges and go on to lift their maiden title, but the odds appear firmly stacked against Yusuf's side.