Interim coach Austin Eguavoen’s men stunned the Egyptians, and just about everyone else, with their high tempo, slick passing, dominant display. But in doing so, they raised the hopes of 200 million Nigerians, many of whom had given up on the team following previous raggedy performances and a shambolic build up.
Eguavoen understands the challenge and appears to be braced for it.
“We are condemned to win now,” he told ESPN. “We have put ourselves in that position so we must now try to concentrate and put every foot right.”
It will not be easy despite who the opposition are, and Nigeria have previous history to suggest that levels may drop with the ranking of their opponents… as they have tended to do when the expectations have been highest.
At the 1994 World Cup, they lost to Italy in a game they had dominated and were largely expected to see through. Four years later, after beating Spain and Bulgaria in the group phase, they imploded against Denmark.
At the last AFCON, they lost unexpectedly to Madagascar after two opening wins against Burundi and Guinea.
And in the qualifiers for this tournament, they surrendered a 4-0 lead to draw 4-4 with Sierra Leone after playing a scintillating first 30 minutes.
Such consistency in inconsistency presents genuine cause for worry that having navigated their way past what is unarguably their most difficult group opposition, the team might underestimate Sudan and get in their own way.
“Football is about continuity,” former Nigeria midfielder and Olympic gold medallist Garba Lawal told ESPN.
“We must not get carried away by the victory.
“There were a lot of mistakes we made in that match but that is normal because even if you win 10-0, there will still be mistakes.
“There are no minnows in football anymore. Those countries are even more difficult to play because they double their efforts when they play the supposed stronger teams.”
So far at this tournament, the smaller nations have made it clear they will not be rolling over for their more illustrious opposition.
But if there is one man who can find a way to get around that, it is Eguavoen. He remains the only Super Eagles coach to win all three group games at the Nations Cup, when he guided his team past Ghana, Senegal and Zimbabwe en route to winning the group and claiming the bronze medal in 2006.
He the key is to show every opposition the same respect: “We respect them and we will always respect all opponents.
“We will take the fight to them like we did against Egypt but with that performance against Egypt, teams will now prepare extra for us.
“So we have to step up our game because this is a motivation for other teams as they will think to themselves that if they lie low they will have a problem against us. That means we will have to do better because they will be expecting it now.”
Ed Dove explains to Kay Murray why the Group F opening match between Tunisia and Mali ended in controversial circumstances.
There is a bit of symmetry here for the Super Eagles. At their first AFCON 59 years ago, the Nigerian team were also drawn against Egypt and Sudan. They lost scandalously to both, 3-6 to Egypt and 0-4 to Sudan.
“I am focused on winning against Sudan for now,” Eguavoen insists. “I don’t want to think about any record. Sudan is in focus and we have to deal with that.”
Unlike Nigeria, all but two of Sudan’s 28-man squad play their football at home. Claiming even a point against the Super Eagles — who have only one player not playing in Europe — especially after that sizzling opening game, would be a massive upset.
Cape Verde and Central African Republic produced the template against Nigeria in World Cup qualifying: Sit deep, defend and break with pace and menace.
There is a caveat, however. These may be the same players, but they appear to be a different team now, under a different manager, with different motivations.
“Bringing the Nigerian philosophy and style is exactly what we are trying to do,” Eguavoen said. “We don’t give up and the good thing about these guys is that they are listening.
“I tell them to just go out there and give everything. And if they get tired, to signal and someone else will come in and finish the job.
“With that mentality, nobody is guaranteed a position, so they just go out there and don’t reserve nothing. I tell them they should take every game as a final.”
With the quality at his disposal, the Super Eagles can win every game if they carry and play with that mentality. Expect to see a largely unchanged side from the one that played against Egypt.
Kenneth Omeruo was stretchered off in the second half with an injury, but told ESPN he is fit to play. This leaves Eguavoen with the full complement of his squad to select from, and hoping they can replicate another good performance.
‘Cerezo’, of course, understands that, and accepts that there will be times when they fall short.
“We just plead that they continue in that manner and we will continue to do our own job. Definitely, along the line there will be mistakes, but we will try to make amends as quickly as possible so we keep putting smiles on the faces of Nigerians.”