By 5pm today, the Super Eagles of Nigeria will continue their hunt for continental glory when they file out against the oldest winners of the Africa Cup of Nations, Sudan at the Stade Roumdé Adjia in Garoua.
The three-time African champions are top favourites to win the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations after defeating the Pharaohs of Egypt on Tuesday courtesy of the lone goal scored by Leicester City forward, Kelechi Iheanacho.
- Twitter regulations attempt to suppress constitutional rights – Reps minority caucus
- Bank customers in Kano groan as cashless ATMs force POS patronage
On paper, the second Group B clash against Sudan may appear simple but the work is done on the pitch. According to the record books, Nigeria has met 14 times with Sudan with Nigeria winning 8 games, drawing 4 and losing just 2. The two losses came in the 1963 and 2015 AFCONs in 4-0 and 1-0 defeats respectively. The last game between the two nations was in the African Nations Championship where Nigeria defeated Sudan in January 2018.
The Falcons of Jediane as Sudan national team is called do not have players who play in top clubs in Europe as the bulk of their players are African based players with 12 of them from Al Merreikh and Al Hilal.
A key player in that team is Mohammed Abdel Rahman who once plied his trade with Algerian side, CA Bordj where he became the first player in Sudanese history to be transferred for a million dollars or more.
His importance in the team can’t be over emphasised as his goal against South Africa in the qualifying series was crucial to their qualification for the AFCON.
Sudan who are 125th in the FIFA ranking have fallen behind in the football community as they had failed to build on their early successes.
In 1970, Sudan emerged AFCON champion, was runner up in 1959 and 1963 and clinched the third place in 1958. Their most recent success in football was when they emerged 3rd in the CECAFA Cup which is the oldest football tournament in Africa organized by the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations and had won on three different occasions.
The Super Eagles will have to bridge the defence line led by Mohamed Amin, a promising defender from Swedish side Motala AIF who is in a squad where a bulk of their players have not garnered up to 15 caps to their name.
In that same squad, is Al-Hilal Omdurman goalkeeper, Ali Abu Eshrein who made his debut for Sudan at the age of 27 and is key to the success of the team. His leadership from the back helped his side qualify by finishing second in Group C, behind Ghana but above South Africa and São Tomé and Príncipe.
Another player to look out for is Al-Jezoli Nouh, a 21-year-old forward from Merreikh as well as 23-year-old Jomaa Galag who just moved to Al Hilal who if given playing time has vowed to prove his worth and he should not be taken lightly.
With the Super Eagles now firm favourites, they may book a place in the round of 16, if they edged out Sudan and Egypt and Gunea-Bissau play out a draw game at least.
On Wednesday, Head coach Augustine Eguavoen told newsmen after the team’s training session that their approach is to take every game as a cup final with his assistant, Salisu Yusuf expecting the game to be more physical than Egypt who play sleeky football but confident the players will not underestimate the Falcons.
Speaking on behalf of the players, captain Ahmed Musa reiterated the team’s resolve to stay on course and focused on the battles they need to win to get to the promised land.
The Super Eagles parade some of the best players the continent has produced. They also play for some of the biggest clubs across the globe.
The Sudanese have a big task ahead of them and will work extra hard to clip the wings of the Eagles. Sudanese national team coach Bourneldin Tia is prepared for the game today and is aware of the Eagles threat.
Sudan recorded a goalless draw against Guinea Bissau in their first match and must beat the Super Eagles of Nigeria to have any realistic chance of qualifying for the knockout rounds.
Tia said the match will not be easy but they have prepared for such a game like the one to be played against the Super Eagles.
“It will not be easy, as well as facing Egypt, but these are matches that we have put in our minds and our program before the tournament,” he said.
On Thursday, Eguavoen waved aside the record of his being the only Nigeria coach to have led the Super Eagles to win all three group phase matches at the AFCON, when his wards steamrolled Ghana, Zimbabwe and Senegal in Egypt 16 years ago.
“I am focused on winning against Sudan for now; I don’t want to think about any record or how we go about our third match. Sudan is in focus now and we have to deal with that, squarely
“I am happy with our output against Egypt and especially the way the boys set up and approached the game the way we agreed was best. Everything worked. But we have shifted our focus completely to the next match and it is another day and another team and a different approach. I am happy with the playing personnel that we have got and the way they are ready to give their all,” Coach Eguavoen said.
The Eguavoen led Super Eagles have lots of wingers and Sameul Chukwueze is one. Maybe he didn’t play too well against Egypt but he is capable of delivering the killer pass or finishing cleanly in the final third.
The Sudanese defence line will also have so much to do to curtail Kelechi Iheanacho who has demonstrated his goal-scoring prowess against Egypt,
Nigeria currently top Group D with three points, Sudan and Guinea Bissau have a point each while Egypt with no point are at the bottom of the group.
Jide Olusola is in Garoua, Cameroon