THE Nigeria shirt carries a special significance for Joe Aribo. The number on the back of it will bring its own burden in Cameroon.

Aribo has arrived at the African Cup of Nations in the finest form of his club career and now he has the chance to make himself a hero to a demanding, expectant public in his adopted homeland.

As he takes a break from Rangers' pursuit of the Premiership title, he has a new focus in the coming weeks as he aims to help the Super Eagles soar and secure the silverware against the finest names on the continent.

The fact that Aribo has been handed the famous number ten jersey - once worn by the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha and Mikel Obi Jon - is proof of the esteem that manager Augustine Eguavoen holds him in.

Yet such an honour comes with a unique pressure. Nigeria are expected to win, and Aribo is expected to perform.

"I think Aribo started well for Nigeria, he scored against Brazil and Ukraine and he did well," Oluwashina Okeleji, an African football expert and respected journalist, told Herald and Times Sport. "I think people were excited about him.

"Now, for Nigeria, he still hasn’t convinced a lot of people that he is ready for the grit and the fight of African football. They can see he is exceptional when it comes to playing against European opposition or other teams outside of Africa.

"He is now facing his biggest test at the AFCON, when he will come up against powerful, physical midfielders and defenders who might make it difficult for him.

"He is a fantastic young player. He has promise and people like him, but they tend to see two different Aribos.

"There is one for Rangers who is shining but in the last four, five games he hasn’t convinced the sceptics in Nigeria that he is ready to step into the number ten position and play there for Nigeria for a long time.

"He has promise, of course. But this AFCON provides him with a platform to actually convince people that he can indeed wear that special number ten jersey."

It was expected that Aribo would be joined by two of his Rangers team-mates in Cameroon this month but the 25-year-old is the only call-up that Giovanni van Bronckhorst will need to do without.

Leon Balogun missed the final cut after failing to recover from the injury that has kept him sidelined for several weeks, while Calvin Bassey was overlooked despite his rise to prominence under Van Bronckhorst's guidance.

The loss of Aribo is a significant blow for the champions. If he can replicate his domestic form on the international stage, he will be hero worshipped by millions more.

"He has to put in a shift for Nigeria," Okeleji said. "He is a big star with Rangers but expectations in Nigeria are high and the Premiership is not seen there as much.

"Aribo will always be one of the first names on the list, alongside Wilfred Ndidi. It is a big tournament for him and he has to prove himself.

"If he fails to light up the AFCON then it might be difficult for him to convince the very demanding Nigeria fans that he is ready to produce in the years to come.

"People have questioned his physicality, they have questioned his ability to dominate in midfield against African opposition and they say that he tends to disappear in matches. This AFCON provides him that opportunity to prove people wrong.

"Nigeria are one of the favourites when it comes to the AFCON. They have talents all over the team. So the expectation with the fans, the media and everyone in Nigeria is that the team should go and win the tournament.

"They are a big football nation and they have that expectation. They are going there to win and going to Cameroon doesn’t affect those expectations."

Nigeria's campaign kicks-off against Egypt on Tuesday. Sudan and Guinea-Bissau also await in a Group D section that Aribo and Co. are expected to emerge from easily.

The loss of Aribo for a prolonged period is far from ideal for Rangers but his international call-up this time around comes with added complications and concerns.

This will be the first AFCON tournament played under the shadow of the Covid pandemic and some of Europe's biggest clubs will be watching on nervously as they wait to welcome back their players at the end of their national service.

"Those fears are not really the reality in Africa," Okeleji, a writer with the BBC in Africa and contributor to news organisations across the world, said. "The cases in England are worse than they are in Africa. The speed and transmission of the virus is not as quick as it is in Europe.

"I think those fears are unfounded. In Africa, like in Europe, the players don’t really get to mix with the fans so I don’t think Covid should be a major concern for clubs.

"The statistics are there to prove that Africa doesn’t have a surge in Covid cases and I don’t think clubs and fans should be concerned about Covid. The organisers have made it extremely difficult for fans and media to have access to the teams.

"It is going to be an AFCON like no other because of the rules. These are the first rules of this kind in African football in regards to the testing. The players will be far away from people outside of the tournament so I don’t think it should be a concern."

There is every chance that Rangers will be without Aribo for the duration of the tournament as Nigeria set their sights on a place in the final in Yaoundé on February 6.

The 33rd AFCON has already been moved twice due to climatic conditions in Cameroon and then Covid. It is third time lucky for what will be a unique competition in more ways than one.

"We have seen CAF come up with a testing procedure to allow fans to attend and if you are not fully vaccinated and don’t have a PCR test then you are not allowed to get into the stadium," Okeleji said.

"This is a continent that is already struggling to attract fans to come and watch the tournament. Now they will be dealing with fans who have to spend so much money to attend football matches.

"This could make it a tournament like no other before. Cameroon is a powerful football nation, the fans are expected to come out.

"With the new rules, it leaves room for questions and people are concerned about the financial implications about travelling to the tournament. It will be a very unpredictable and different AFCON."