AFCON Group D Preview: Nigeria, Egypt, favourites against Sudan and Guinea Bissau

afcon group d preview nigeria egypt favourites against sudan and guinea bissau scaled
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The 33rd Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon next Sunday, having been delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here, BBC Sport Africa runs the rule over Group D, which include record seven-time champions Egypt, three-time winners Nigeria, Sudan and Guinea-Bissau.

Nigeria

Odion Igahlo in action for Nigeria
Odion Igahlo was top scorer at the 2019 Nations Cup with five goals, and came out of international retirement in November
Appearance: 19th Best finish: Winners (1980, 1994, 2013)
Interim coach: Augustine Eguavoen Captain: Ahmed Musa
Fifa ranking: 36 Nickname: Super Eagles

Oluwashina Okeleji (Sports journalist, Nigeria): Whoever coined the expression about shooting oneself in the foot must have had Nigeria in mind, for the Super Eagles are often the architects of their own misery.

With mind-boggling regularity they press the self-destruct button before and during major tournaments, this time by sacking coach Gernot Rohr just four weeks ahead of the Nations Cup.

Former captain Austin Eguavoen takes charge for a third spell – yet his appointment in the hottest seat in African football has been criticised by the fans. But Eguavoen, who led the team to a third-placed finish in 2006, has ignored the mumblings of discontent and revealed the squad’s target in Cameroon is to emerge as champions.

New boss Jose Peseiro travels as “an observer”, with Nigeria in a tricky group. The Super Eagles must fly above their internal issues to reach the knockout stages.

Goalkeeping uncertainty, frailty at the back and a lightweight midfield were the problems that blighted the squad during qualifying for the Nations Cup and World Cup. Kelechi Iheanacho has gone off the boil, exciting Samuel Chukwueze is only just returning from a long-term injury, while Wilfred Ndidi provides the sole reliability in midfield.

Egypt

Mohamed Salah in action for Egypt
Mohamed Salah has scored four goals at the Nations Cup
Appearance: 25th Best finish: Winners (1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010)
Coach: Carlos Queiroz Captain: Mohamed Salah
Fifa ranking: 45 Nickname: The Pharaohs

Yasmine Elkaffas (BBC Arabic journalist): Egypt are the most successful team in the history of the tournament, winning an unprecedented third consecutive Nations Cup in 2010 to claim their seventh title.

But despite all these records, there is still some doubt whether the Pharaohs can compete this time around.

The dream of an eighth crown was shattered in 2019 when Egypt, as host nation, were knocked out by South Africa in the round of 16 after delivering a disappointing performance which drew a lot of criticism.

But under the leadership of Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz the team has restored its character. This was clearly shown in the Fifa Arab Cup as Egypt reached the semi-finals despite the absence of key players like Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny and Galatasaray’s Mostafa Mohamed.

On paper, Egypt face stiff competition from defending champions Algeria, Africa’s top-ranked team Senegal, Nigeria, Tunisia and hosts Cameroon to emerge as champions on 6 February.

Sudan

Sudan's team ahead of a match against Lebanon at the 2021 Arab Cup
Sudan lost all their group games at the Arab Cup, leading to the dismissal of coach Hubert Velud
Appearance: Ninth Best finish: Winners (1970)
Interim coach: Burhan Tia Captain: Mohamed Abdelrahman
Fifa ranking: 125 Nickname: Saqur al-Jidyan (Secretary Birds)

Isma’il Kushkush (Sudanese-American journalist): Sudan returns to the Nations Cup after a ten-year absence, somewhat surprisingly snatching second spot behind Ghana in a qualifying group that included South Africa. Its hopes to get beyond group stage look improbable.

The “Saqur al-Jidyan” (Secretary Birds) performed miserably in the recent Arab Cup, including a humiliating loss to Egypt. That led to the sacking of Hubert Velud and his staff and new coach Burhan Tia letting go of several veteran players weeks before the tournament. Guinea-Bissau, meanwhile, shockingly beat Sudan 4-2 in a World Cup qualifier in Khartoum last year.

Sudanese football, however, occasionally produces surprises, perhaps reflecting a tug of war between a proud past and frustrating present.

Sudan is a founding member of Caf, the first host of Afcon in 1957, two-time runners up and winners in 1970. Sudanese club giants Al-Hilal and Al-Merrikh often perform relatively well in African club competitions.

But the Secretary Birds have failed to live up to expectations for years. What face of Sudanese football will show up in Cameroon?

Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau ahead of a game against Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2019
Guinea-Bissau only took a point from three group games against Cameroon, Benin and Ghana at the 2019 Nations Cup
Appearance: Third Best finish: Group stage (2017 and 2019)
Coach: Baciro Cande Captain: Jonas Mendes
Fifa ranking: 106 Nickname: Djurtus (Wild Dogs)

Alberto Dabo (Journalist in Guinea-Bissau): After qualifying for a third consecutive Nations Cup, the question is whether Guinea-Bissau will succeed in getting past the group stage for the first time.

In 2019 the Djurtus suffered 2-0 defeats against Cameroon and Ghana and drew 0-0 with Benin.

Guinea-Bissau failed to score a goal in their final four World Cup qualifiers, with critics saying it is unacceptable for a team to go so long without finding the net.

Critics claim coach Baciro Cando lacks a game plan. His system is not inspired by lively offensive play because he is more concerned with defending.

Most of the squad play in the second division in Portugal and France, but midfielders Moreto Cassama (Reims), Alfa Semedo (Vitoria Guimaraes) and forward Piqueti, who scored one the most beautiful goals of the 2017 Nations Cup against Cameroon and plays in Saudi Arabia, are among their main stars.

Group D Fixtures

Tuesday, 11 January: Nigeria v Egypt, Sudan v Guinea-Bissau

Saturday, 15 January: Nigeria v Sudan, Guinea-Bissau v Egypt

Wednesday, 19 January: Egypt v Sudan, Guinea-Bissau v Nigeria

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