Nigeria on the march again, battles Egypt in Group D opener

Who rules Group D in the ongoing Cameroun 2021 Africa Cup of Nations? That question will be partially answered today when Nigeria’s Super Eagles engage Pharaohs of Egypt in what has been termed the toughest match of the group. It is generally assumed that the victor in the clash at the Roumde Adjia Stadium will go on to win the group.

Nigeria and Egypt are old customers in the competition, having met several times at different stages of the Nations Cup, but today’s meeting means more to the Super Eagles, who have vowed to avenge the defeat that cost them the ticket to the 2017 edition of the competition.

With Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah at the peak of his powers, most pundits believe that the Egyptian magician will lead his troops to a narrow win, but Nigeria’s coach, Austin Eguavoen, will have none of that.

Among those, who believe Egypt will have the upper hand today is Sudan’s General Manager, Mohsen Sayed, whose team is in the same Group D with Nigeria and Egypt.

The Falcons of Jediane will also start their journey today, against Guinea-Bissau, before facing Nigeria and finally the Pharaohs in the final group stage match.

Previewing today’s game, Sayed said: “Egypt has the best player in the world.

“On paper, the Egyptian national team is better than Nigeria and is the closest to winning, but football is full of surprises. I definitely hope that Egypt win.”

To Eguavoen, people who do not know the true strength of the Super Eagles usually make such predictions. He assured Nigerians that his wards would be equal to whatever Egypt throws at them, adding that he has equally ferocious battlers in his squad.

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The Super Eagles won their only friendly game ahead of this competition, a 2-0 victory over Coton Sport Garoua on Friday. The game gave a glimpse of what Nigerians should expect when the Eagles meet Egypt today.

Speaking ahead of today’s match against Pharaohs, Eguavoen said his team is aware of the difficulty they will face against Egypt, but assured they will put smiles on the faces of Nigerians.

The Eagles will later face Sudan and Guinea Bissau, but Eguavoen says he will take the games one at a time.

“Our game plan is to win the first match against Egypt, thereafter, we prepare for the other games.

“Egypt are seven times winner and they are a team I have played against and coached against at the junior level. I know what they can bring to the table.

“They are not a team you can push over. None of the teams that qualified for the AFCON is a pushover. We will do everything possible to see how we can overcome Egypt. Nigeria is a big country and other teams are planning as well.”

In 2006, Eguavoen took the Super Eagles to the third position in the competition, and now, he feels he can go a step further.

“I think I am better as a coach now because every day that counts matters and I have watched many coaches and I learnt a lot because we learn every day. But the thing is your opponents determine how you set up your team. So, it will be a different approach against Egypt and another against Sudan and Guinea Bissau.”

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Asked how the Eagles will take care of rampaging Liverpool striker, Mohammed Salah, Eguavoen said: “Wait and see.”

Egypt has not won the African Cup of Nations again since their seventh triumph in Angola in 2010. That is what they are out to correct in Cameroun.

However, the Pharaohs acknowledge that the journey will not be smooth. Even with Salah, The Pharaohs fear that their team may not have an easy walkover against the big boys of African football when the chips are down.

Salah’s recent form with the Pharaohs has been less than impressive, paling in comparison to what he has been capable of doing for the Reds in both the Premier or Champions’ leagues this season. But Salah’s superstar status alone can be a game-changer regardless of his form.

Speaking on Salah’s expected impact in the competition, Egyptian football analyst, Sabry Sirag told Reuters: “He is not a guaranteed ticket to lifting the trophy, but his presence on the pitch alone costs time and effort from other teams to come up with a way to contain him.

“They put one or two defenders on him and that frees others to do what’s needed.”

Winner of the group will likely avoid Algeria, who are expected to win Group E.

“The Nigeria match will, to a large extent, decide the road ahead for Egypt in the tournament,” says commentator Mahmoud El Makhbazi, while installing Algeria and Senegal as title favourites.

“But there are no guarantees given the coronavirus pandemic. Any team can lose key players to COVID-19, including Egypt.”

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While the attention is mostly focused on Salah, a handful of players in the Egypt squad are expected to shine in the tournament. These include El Wensh, midfielders Hamdy Fathi and Akram Tawfik, and Omar Maramoush, the Stuttgart forward in Germany’s Bundesliga.

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