preparation by Jose Peseiro’s Nigeria has been shabby, while their on-field performances inspire little confidence that a fourth title is imminent before Sunday’s opening fixture against Equatorial Guinea.
Nigeria have flattered to deceive despite the recognition of their attacking talent, and missing the 2022 World Cup disappointed observers, as they fell to a Ghana side that exited AFCON 2021 at the group stage a couple of months before the double-header between the West African neighbours.
The Super Eagles did not fare any better at the previous AFCON, eliminated in the round of 16 after Moses Simon’s inspired performances in the group stage gave way when the three-time African champions faced a coherent team in Tunisia in the first knockout round.
Victor Osimhen is the nation’s undoubted best player heading into this tournament, and the current African Footballer of the Year, who ended as the leading scorer in qualifying (10 goals), should be pivotal to the Super Eagles’ prospects in Group A.
Peseiro’s men lost their final friendly game before the Cup of Nations – a 2-0 loss to Guinea – which has resurrected doubts about the Portuguese manager’s tactical ability and the squad’s imbalance before their tournament opener.
As for the Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea, continuing their impressive record of progressing to the last eight whenever they participate at the continental showpiece motivates them before Sunday’s fixture.
While it should be noted that two of the three times the Equatoguineans thrived came in tournaments they either co-hosted or outright hosted, the tiny West African country flourished at AFCON 2021 in Cameroon to reach the quarter-finals.
Juan Micha’s men go into this year’s finals in outstanding form, going undefeated throughout 2023 and claiming victories in World Cup qualifying games against Namibia and Liberia without conceding a goal.
The Nzalang Nacional’s top victory of the previous year came in their 1-0 success over Tunisia in AFCON qualifying, giving them confidence in securing another shock victory against a Nigeria side whose competence has been questioned.
Success is far from assured, but the Equatoguineans have nothing to fear against the Super Eagles, who are less than the sum of their parts