By; AYO OJEDOKUN, Lagos
It is less than 48 hours after their memorable defeat of the Pharaohs of Egypt in the opening match of Group D of the 33rd Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon and the Super Eagles have shifted their focus completely to Saturday’s confrontation with the Falcons of Jediane (Sudan) at the Stade Roumdé Adjia in Garoua.
Just as happened in their debut at the 59 years ago, Nigeria had Egypt and Sudan lined up as their first two opponents of the competition. In 1963, the Egyptians hammered the Cinderellas 6-3, and Sudan followed with a 4-0 whiplash of the newcomers.
Tuesday’s 1-0 success was Nigeria’s first-ever win over Egypt in a first match at the AFCON. Twelve years ago, in the Angolan city of Benguela, the Pharaohs came from deficit as a result of Chinedu Obasi’s early goal to lash the Eagles 3-1.
Apart from their 4-0 win over the Eagles in 1963 in Accra, the Falcons’ 1-0 defeat of Nigeria in an AFCON qualifier in Khartoum in October 2014 was one of the principal reasons for the absence of the green-and-white in the 30th finals in Equatorial Guinea seven years ago.
So much has changed in 59 years and the Eagles are quietly confident of victory over the Sudanese when both teams tango at the 30,000 –capacity venue in northern Cameroon on Saturday evening.
“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 told thenffnews on Thursday morning.
Former Eagles’ captain Eguavoen featured for the Nigeria senior team for 11 years, between 1987 and 1998, during which he lifted the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994, held aloft the Afro-Asian Cup the following year, played in three AFCON finals (it could have been six but he missed the 1990 finals in Algeria; Nigeria withdrew from the 1996 finals and; was barred from the 1998 competition) and featured at the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cup finals. He won a total of 51 senior caps.
As coach, Eguavoen was assistant to another former captain Christian Chukwu when Nigeria finished third at the 2004 finals in Tunisia, then led the team to win another bronze in Egypt two years later. He is one of only 15 indigenous coaches to have taken charge of the Senior Men National Team of Nigeria, and also one of the 15 African coaches at these finals in Cameroon.
As Head Coach, the hard-as-nails defender has the most win-record with the Super Eagles, winning nine of his 12 matches in charge between 2005 and 2007, and is one of only three coaches to have steered an African country to the top 10 of the FIFA rankings (the other two being Clemens Westerhof and Egypt’s Hassan Shehata).
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.”
Three points on Saturday will guarantee group leaders Nigeria a place in the Round of 16 of the 33rd AFCON, meaning a more relaxed approach to their final group phase clash with debutants Guinea Bissau also in Garoua on Wednesday next week. If they finish top of Group D, the three-time champions will remain in Garoua for their Round of 16 task.
Old hands in the Nigeria team’s backroom have told of a breath of fresh air in camp, in which democracy, liberty and communication have been instituted and everyone is made to feel a part of all activities, events and programmes. “Coach Eguavoen has insisted that everyone must communicate; they must say their mind at all times. He speaks to each and every player like he’s their uncle and notes and deals with their challenges. He does not discriminate.
“The camp is so interesting and is once more like a family setting. Everyone is like another’s brother. The spirit is high and I believe our team will go far in this competition,” said one backroom staff.