Aside from Guinea-Bissau, the Super Eagles will face two former continental champions – Egypt and Sudan – in the group stage of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
While many know what to expect from seven-time Afcon champions Egypt and their star performer Mohamed Salah, the same cannot be said of the Falcons of Jediane.
Soccernet’s Imhons Erons draws a fact file on one of the three teams to participate in the inaugural Africa Cup of Nations.
Having missed the last four editions of the Nations Cup, Sudan will arrive in Cameroon with hopes of making their ninth appearance at the championship a memorable experience.
During the qualifiers, the Sudanese were placed in the same group as Ghana and South Africa and were not given a chance to appear at Afcon 2021.
But the Falcons impressively secured four victories, including remarkable home wins over the Bafana Bafana and the Black Stars, to ensure Nelson Mandela’s kins will miss the party in Cameroon.
An African giant back in the days, Sudan finished as runners-up in two of the first four editions of the Afcon.
The Falcons’ most beautiful moment in Afcon history, however, came in 1970 when they became African champions for the first and, so far, only time following a 1-0 defeat of Ghana in the final.
Sudan’s decline since that glorious outing has been truly shocking, though. The Northeast Africans have qualified for just five editions of the Afcon in over 50 years and have only made it past the group stages once.
It will be the eighth wonder of the world should the Sudanese national team ride all the way to the February final and lift the Nations Cup.
Ranked 125th by FIFA, Sudan bring to Cameroon a team of 28 players with a combined market value of fewer than three million euros.
Many of these play their football for Sudanese first division sides Al-Hilal Omdurman and Al-Merrikh. None of them plays in any of Europe’s top ten leagues.
The Falcons boast some fine talents, though.
Al-Hilal Omdurman’s Ali Abu Eshrein is not just a fine shot-stopper, but he is also his country’s most experienced star with 21 international caps.
However, 29-year-old Al-Merrikh centre-back Salah Nemer will likely captain the side at the Afcon in the absence of the influential Ramadan Agab.
A lot of the Falcons’ hopes of a successful display in Cameroon, however, rests on the goalscoring boots of Al-Hilal’s forward Mohamed Abdelrahman.
The 28-year-old has seven goals in 13 competitive games for the Falcons, three of which came during the qualifying campaign.
Despite leading Sudan to the Afcon after a decade-long absence, French tactician Hubert Velud and his staff were sacked in December following a miserable performance in the recent Arab Cup.
The “Saqur al-Jidyan” (Secretary Birds) suffered humiliating defeats to Algeria (4-0), Egypt (5-0), and Lebanon (1-0).
New coach Burhan Tia was appointed immediately, and one of his first notable tasks was letting go of several veteran players weeks before the Afcon.
It will take an extraordinary effort for Sudan to make it out of a group that boasts two of the Afcon’s title favourites.
Egypt, without Salah, showed their superiority over the Secretary Birds as recently as December, while Nigeria have won six and lost just one of their last seven games against them.
Even Guinea-Bissau have a psychological advantage over the Sudanese, having handed the Secretary Birds a 4-2 away defeat in September during the World Cup qualifiers.
A bottom-placed finish in Group D, therefore, would not surprise many.