Nigeria and Egypt vie for primacy as Sudan and Guinea Bissau fight for scraps

·4-min read

Fitting that the opening round of games in Group D in Garoua should provide such a contrast. A blockbuster followed by something of a damp squib - depending, of course, on allegiances.

Nigeria take on Egypt in the clash of the titans at the 30,000 seat Roumdé Adija Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.

With Sudan and Guinea Bissau waiting in the wings over the next eight days, the winner of the tie is expected to go on and claim the group.

Results between sides at the tournament are often seized upon. But the custom can be a tad misleading. Especially in the here and now of 2021. Seven of the previous clashes date back to 1963 when Egypt beat Nigeria 6-3 in Ghana at the fourth Cup of Nations tournament.

And since then there have been three wins for Nigeria and two draws. Egypt's only other victory came in 2010 during the competition in Angola.

Signs

If anything, Egypt will be hoping the omens are fortuitous. The Pharaohs went on to win the 2010 title in Luanda against Ghana.

That was an unprecedented third Cup of Nations trophy on the trot and a record-extending seventh crown.

Since then though it's been a desert. Expectations were as monumental as the pyramids skirting Cairo during the last tournament in Egypt. Mohamed Salah was primed to lead his compatriots to lavish victory upon resounding triumph.

But Stuart Baxter's South Africa upstaged them in the last-16.

Nearly three years on, the pressure for ultimate glory will be just as immense.

And an early test of character will come in the game against Nigeria who will be keen to show no side effects from the loss of key strikers Victor Osimhen and Emmanuel Dennis.

Osimhen, who turned out for Lille for a season before leaving for Napoli in 2020, was omitted due to an injury and contracting the coronavirus.

Dennis fell foul of administrative wrangles with his English Premier League side Watford.

“The only thing is to change the style of play because the personnel is not there as we expected,” Nigeria coach Augustine Eguavoen told the website Allnigeriasoccer.com.

Chance

"We have to just alter the formation and how we approach the games as well.

"For those who take their places ... you've been given an opportunity and I think you should take it.”

A clarion call indeed from the former international who was rushed into place after long-time coach Gernot Rohr was dismissed in the middle of December.

The 68-year-old German had been at the helm since August 2016 and had led the Super Eagles to a quarter-final slot at the Cup of Nations in 2017 as well as the World Cup and third place at the Cup of Nations in Egypt.

Under his watch, Nigeria were disciplined rather than spectacular - quite the antithesis of the sides that bedazzled the world during the early 1990's.

Eguavoen, 49, has the moniker "interim" attached. A poor run in Cameroon will see that quickly amended to "ex".

Change

Sudan also changed coach just ahead of the tournament.

Frenchman Hubert Velud steered them through the qualification matches before his dismissal in December.

But his departure was no surprise. At the Arab Cup they lost all three matches conceding 10 goals and not scoring one. They also finished bottom of their qualifying group for the 2022 World Cup.

The relatively unknown Burhan Tiya and an all-Sudanese coaching staff will guide them in Cameroon as they play against a backdrop of strife in their homeland.

Their progress could provide some succour. Sudan have waited for their moment at the tournament for nearly a decade. They were surprise quarter-finalists in 2012 - going down to eventual champions Zambia.

And since then they have failed to qualify for the next four tournaments.

Of the two minnows, Guinea Bissau could prove the most intriguing. Half a dozen from the squad play in the French and Portuguese top flights. And the nation is into its third consecutive finals.

While an upset against Nigeria or Egypt is unlikely, a victory over Sudan and a draw with one of the big boys could lead to the last-16 as one of the four best third-placed teams.

In the knockout stages, anything can happen. Just ask the Egyptians who lost to a late goal against South Africa during the same stage in 2019.

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