Nigeria is currently in the lead to win a match against Sudan. This closely fought contest was not just about who would take home the ball, but also an opportunity for Nigeria and their fans to overcome past mistakes.
Nigeria’s main concern heading into Saturday’s Africa Cup of Nations group game against Sudan will be living up to the high standards established by their first-round triumph over Egypt.
The Egyptians, and just about everyone else, were astonished by Interim Coach Austin Eguavoen’s team’s quick speed, smooth passing, and overpowering performance. However, they did so by reawakening the dreams of 200 million Nigerians, many of whom had given up on the squad after past dreadful performances and a shambolic build-up.
Eguavoen looks to be aware of the task and prepared for it.
He told ESPN, “We’re doomed to win now.” “Now that we’ve placed ourselves in that position, we must focus and put every foot in the appropriate place.”
It won’t be easy, regardless of who the opponents are, and Nigeria’s track record suggests that levels may decline as opponents’ rankings rise… as they have in the past when the stakes are greatest.
They lost to Italy in the 1994 World Cup, a game they had controlled and were widely anticipated to win. Four years later, they disintegrated against Denmark after overcoming Spain and Bulgaria in the group stage.
They fell to Madagascar at the last AFCON after winning the first two games against Burundi and Guinea.
After a thrilling first 30 minutes, they squandered a 4-0 lead to draw 4-4 with Sierra Leone in the qualifications for this tournament.
Such constancy in unpredictability raises legitimate concerns that, having gotten by unquestionably their most tough group opponent, the squad would underestimate Sudan and get in their own way.
The Africa Cup of Nations is being held in Cameroon, and Nigerian supporters are in attendance. Getty Images/DANIEL BELOUMOU OLOMO/AFP
Garba Lawal, a former Nigerian midfielder and Olympic gold medalist, told ESPN, “Football is about consistency.”
“We must not get enamored with our win.
“We made a lot of errors in that game, but that’s to be expected because even if you win 10-0, you’ll still make mistakes.”
“In football, there are no longer any minnows. Those nations are even more tough to play against since they put in twice the effort when facing the ostensibly stronger opponents.”
So far in this tournament, the lesser countries have made it plain that they are not going down without a fight against their more renowned opponents.
Sierra Leone drew 0-0 with Algeria, Senegal beat Zimbabwe with a late penalty, and Burkina Faso pushed Cameroon all the way before losing to two Vincent Aboubakar penalties.
Eguavoen, on the other hand, is a guy who can find a way around anything. When he led his side through Ghana, Senegal, and Zimbabwe on way to winning the group and collecting the bronze medal in 2006, he remains the first Super Eagles coach to win all three group games at the Nations Cup.
The answer, he believes, is to treat all opponents with the same level of respect: “We respect them, and we will always respect all opponents.”
“We’ll take the battle to them as we did against Egypt, but teams will now prepare more for us as a result of our performance against Egypt.”
“As a result, we must raise up our game since this serves as fuel for other teams, who will believe that if they stay quiet, they will have a difficult time competing against us. That means we’ll have to step up our game since they’ll be expecting it.”
Ed Dove explains to Kay Murray why Tunisia and Mali’s Group F opener ended in controversy.
For the Super Eagles, there is some symmetry here. The Nigerian squad was likewise drawn against Egypt and Sudan in their inaugural AFCON, 59 years ago. They were humiliated in both games, losing 3-6 to Egypt and 0-4 to Sudan.
“For the time being, I’m focused on winning versus Sudan,” Eguavoen maintains. “I’m not interested in thinking about any records. Sudan is in the spotlight, and we must address it.”
Unlike Nigeria, Sudan’s 28-man roster plays all of their games at home, with the exception of two players. Even a point against the Super Eagles, who have just one player not playing in Europe, would be a big shock, particularly after that scorching first game.
Against Nigeria in World Cup qualification, Cape Verde and the Central African Republic followed the template: sit deep, defend, then break with speed and threat.
However, there is a catch. Although they are the same players, they look to be a new squad today, led by a different manager and motivated by different goals.
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“What we’re trying to accomplish is bring the Nigerian mindset and flair,” Eguavoen added. “We don’t give up, and one of the best things about these people is that they listen.”
“I advise them to simply go out there and give it their all,” says the coach. And to notify if they get fatigued so that someone else may come in and complete the task.
“Nobody is promised a job with that mindset, so they simply go out there and don’t reserve anything. I urge them that they should treat every game as if it were the final.”
The Super Eagles can win every game with the talent at their disposal if they maintain and play with that attitude. Expect a team that is virtually unchanged from the one that faced Egypt.
Kenneth Omeruo was stretchered off with an injury in the second half, but he informed ESPN that he is able to play. Eguavoen now has the complete complement of his team to choose from, and will be aiming for another strong performance.
Of course, ‘Cerezo’ recognizes this and admits that they will fall short at times.
“We only ask that they continue in this way, and we will go about our business. There will undoubtedly be errors along the way, but we will strive to correct them as fast as possible so that Nigerians may continue to grin.”