During the AFCON 2023 draw, the host country Ivory Coast was automatically in Group A, picked by the Ivorian legend Didier Drogba.
When it came to Pot 3 and a pick for the final slot in Group A that already had the hosts Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea Bissau, Drogba must have been wishing – not Nigeria, Ghana or Cameroon.
Perhaps for Drogba, Mali, DR Congo, or Burkina Faso would be better.
When Sadio Mane dipped his hand inside the pot, swivelled the balls and pulled out a ball, the awws and aahs were audible as he announced Nigeria.
No one expected it, not even Drogba. Of course, his fears were understandable. The Elephants of Ivory Coast have only won twice against Nigeria in six meetings at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Every football follower knows that no matter how poor the Super Eagles get, they're still a strong opposition and one to avoid if possible.
It is not to say Ivory Coast, as hosts, cannot beat the Super Eagles, but any team in the world will tell you it is not a walk in the park.
Didier Drogba ranks Nigeria high
Drogba and John Obi Mikel were on the podium for the draw. While there was palpable tension in the hall following the impending clash between Ivory Coast and Nigeria, Mikel was confident of success.
When asked about his impression of the group, Drogba spoke cautiously.
The former Chelsea legend rated the Super Eagles highly and described the upcoming encounter as an exciting challenge.
He opined that it would be a thrilling early test for the Elephants.
Despite rating the Super Eagles highly and describing them as one of the favourites to win the tournament, he said Ivory Coast is up for it.
He claimed it is the beauty of a competition like AFCON, so the Elephants are ready to take on the challenge and let the best teams of the group and all the groups qualify.
“It is a very difficult group. Nigeria is of course one of the favourites and to have them in our group, it is going to be an exciting challenge,” CAFonline quoted Drogba.
“But we are up for it. This is the beauty of a competition like AFCON, so we are ready to take on the challenge and let the best teams of this group and all the groups qualify.”
The legendary @didierdrogba 🙌🇨🇮
— CAF (@CAF_Online) October 12, 2023
Mikel Obi: Confident or cocky?
When Akon laughed at the outcome of Group A, everyone in the hall understood.
On the podium were two former club teammates and national team rivals set to watch their countries clash again.
Expectedly, he asked Mikel what his expectations of the group were.
A rather confident Mikel said amid laughter that Nigeria is always Nigeria. He seemed unperturbed about the draw, and one could sense that he believed Nigeria could do another number on the Ivory Coast.
Mikel opined that Nigeria was one of the favourites to win the tournament, and that was it.
To many, Mikel sounded a bit overconfident and cocky. However, time will tell the eventual outcome.
— ARAB KAY💡♊ (@RILGEM_KAY) October 13, 2023
An exciting draw
It was an exciting draw filled with colour and allure. The hosts pulled out all the stops to make an impression, and what a night it was.
Six groups, four pots and 24 countries produced a healthy match-up for the January 2024 tournament.
Following the draws, the main preparations can begin, and Drogba, who never laid his hands on Africa's premier trophy, can start mulling how the Elephants can overcome its foes.
This article was most recently revised and updated 2 months ago