AFCON 2023: Why the Super Eagles risk not qualifying from group stages after draw with Equatorial Guinea

Nigeria 1-1 Equatorial Guinea

AFCON 2023: Why the Super Eagles risk not qualifying from group stages after draw with Equatorial Guinea

Tunde Young 08:06 - 15.01.2024

The Super Eagles of Nigeria dropped valuable points against Equatorial Guinea which could seriously affect their chances of qualifying out of Group A of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

The Super Eagles of Nigeria kicked off their AFCON 2023 campaign with a 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea at the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan.

Equatorial Guinea scored first against the run of play through Iban Salvador but Victor Osimhen equalised immediately to earn a point in a game the Super Eagles should have won based on the sheer amount of quality chances created and spurned.

Of course, this has led to a panic reaction from Nigerians who are now worried that their beloved national team could crash out in the group stages and here is why.

Why the Super Eagles might not make it out of the group stages

The dynamics of Group A at the ongoing 2023 Africa Cup of Nations are quite peculiar as it features four really strong teams and the opening round of games has shown that already.

Super Eagles 1-1 Equatorial Guinea

Ivory Coat currently sit top of the group thanks to their 2-0 win against Guinea Bissau on opening day which earned them three points, two more than both Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea with one each.

The Super Eagles needed to hit the ground running to stand a chance in this group and it is safe to say they have not, which led to fans pulling out the proverbial calculators to compute Nigeria's chances of making it out.

It seems ridiculous to suggest the Super Eagles might not qualify as they would have to finish bottom of Group A for that to happen in a tournament where four third-placed teams will still advance.

The problem for Nigeria is that they play Ivory Coast next which is definitely their toughest game of the tournament so far and they are not expected to win as the hosts are quite frankly the better team.

A defeat against the Ivorians condemns Nigeria to a point after two games, meaning they would absolutely have to beat Guinea Bissau in their final group game.

Having to play Guinea Bissau in a win-or-bust situation is not ideal and could go wrong in many different ways for the Super Eagles leading to an early exit from AFCON 2023.

Depending on their own result against Equatorial Guinea in the second round of games, Guinea Bissau could also come into that game against Nigeria needing a win.

The fact that Guinea Bissau have also beaten Nigeria recently in the qualifiers, a 1-0 win in March 2023 in Abuja will have the Djurtus confident of playing the Super Eagles again.

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Why the Super Eagles will qualify from the group stages

Now that we have examined everything that could go wrong, it is time to look at the positives for the Super Eagles which supports the theory that they are not getting knocked out of the group stages.

Nigeria's Super Eagles | Imago

For one, group-stage exits are extremely rare for Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations as it has only happened twice in the 19 previous appearances.

Nigeria crashed out of the group stage in 1963 at their very first AFCON, just three years after the country gained independence and then again in 1982 and it has not happened ever since.

This is not the edition in which the Super Eagles crash out of the group stages for the third time in history, especially with the possibility of three teams advancing.

For that to happen, Nigeria would have to finish bottom of their group which has not happened since 1963 or manage a worse record than four other third-placed teams which is an entirely unlikely scenario.

Victor Osimhen in dismay after a crucial chance, Group A game, Nigeria vs Equatorial Guinea, with Owono watching. (Photo Credit: Imago)

Even in the event that they lose to Ivory Coast which in itself is not a sure thing, the Super Eagles have way too much quality to not dispatch of Guinea Bissau in a must-win game.

While the thought of Nigeria crashing out of the group stages is normal after the disappointing opening game, it is also extremely reactionary as history suggests the Super Eagles struggle with opening matches at the Africa Cup of Nations and tend to grow into the tournament.

AFCON 2023 is the 34th edition of the tournament and Nigeria have only won 12 opening games in the tournament, most recently beating Egypt 1-0 at the last AFCON but before then you would have to go back all the way to 2006 for the Super Eagles' last opening day win.