• Aware of the new competition format, Mikel — who has played in three Afcon tournaments - recalled how Nigeria won their third continental title in their last outing in South Africa 2013 and why fitness is key.
Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel believes fitness will be crucial for any team which has a victory at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt in mind.
After the demanding campaign across Europe in the just-concluded 2018-19 season, 24 teams are ready to battle for glory later in the month, with the high temperatures predicted in Egypt.
Aware of the new competition format, Mikel — who has played in three Afcon tournaments - recalled how Nigeria won their third continental title in their last outing in South Africa 2013 and why fitness is key.
“I think obviously, fitness is going to play a big part in this tournament, it always does when it comes to African football. Fitness always plays 80 percent part on who wins the tournament,” Mikel said during Thursday’s press conference in Asaba.
“If you look back at 2013 when we won it, we were one of the fittest teams, we were well drilled, we put in the hard work during the camp, we knew exactly what we were doing. We were really fit. That’s what we are doing now, training twice a day. If you want to win this trophy you have to do things like that.”
Mikel is back in Gernot Rohr’s selection, after a long absence, since the country’s exit at the group stage of the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia. The ex-Chelsea star is excited with the hunger shown by the ‘young’ Super Eagles as the country aims for a fourth continental crown in Egypt.
“I am happy that every player in this team want to do it, we want to achieve the same thing, we want to be in the final and win the tournament but we also need to know we are not the outright favourites, we have to remain cool, calm, just do what we have to do, not look at other teams. If we do that, we’ll keep winning games,” he added.
“Experience also plays a big part, sometimes youthfulness also plays a big part. We have got a very good mixture in this team that’s going to help us. We have a very young team, they are all fit.”
Nigeria will play Zimbabwe in an international friendly on Saturday in Asaba and later take on Senegal for their final build-up game in Egypt. The West Africans are up against Burundi, Madagascar and Guinea in Group B of the biennial tournament.