Nigeria's galaxy of stars have much to prove
CAIRO, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Nigerian football continues to deliver a galaxy of playing talent to the African footballing scene but the collective unit has much to prove at the African Nations Cup finals.
Nigeria are still smarting after their surprise failure to qualify for the World Cup finals, beaten out by the slimmest of margins by Angola in their qualifying group in an embarrassing setback for the continent's established footballing super-power.
Nigeria lost on a head-to-head count-out after both sides finished on the same number of points and now the Super Eagles have to target a credible performance at the Nations Cup tournament.
They are regarded among the pre-competition favourites despite the World Cup setback and are set to introduce new talent in their line-up.
Players like Italian-based striker Obafemi Martins, Stephen Makinwa and Obinna Nsofor will all be making their tournament debuts along with new midfield talent Christian Obodo, Sani Kaita and the much sought after John Obi Mikel.
Arguably the brightest talent of all is the exciting Olympique Marseille left back Taye Taiwoo, another who has made a seamless transition from Nigeria's youth teams to the Super Eagles' starting line-up.
The attack of Martins and Makinwa has left Nigeria's coach Augustine Eguavoen losing little sleep over the decision of Middlesborough attacker Yakubu Aiyegbeni not to make himself available for selection.
The Nations Cup should mark a changing of the guard as it sees the end of the international career of Austin Okocha, who retires after the finals.
The Bolton Wanderers midfield is the last remaining player from Nigeria's last Nations Cup winning team in 1994 and was voted player of the tournament at the last Nations Cup finals in Tunisia.
Nigeria open their campaign in Group D against Ghana in Port Said on Jan. 23 and play against Zimbabwe and Senegal after that.