2021: Two Eagles set to clash in last 16 tough duel
The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) has reached the knockout stages and there are no more second chances when the Nigerian Super Eagles take on the Tunisian Carthage Eagles.
The Nigerian News Agency of Nigeria reports that Sunday’s AFCON round of 16 match between Nigeria and Tunisia will take place at the Stade Roumdé Adjia, in Garoua, Cameroon from 8:00 p.m.
Indeed, it is a meeting of two Eagles, with both Eagles finely balanced at six wins each with eight draws in 20 previous meetings.
Nigeria won 2-0 the first time these two nations met at the Surulere Stadium, Lagos, in 1961 during the 1962 AFCON qualifying series.
However, it was the Carthage Eagles who came into the tournament proper under controversial circumstances.
Nigeria was leading 2-1 at the Stade Chedly Zouiten in Tunisia when a hotly contested Tunisian equalizer forced Nigeria to withdraw in the 65th minute.
Tunisia thus obtained a 2-0 victory and qualified for the final score of 3-2.
The North Africans once again proved to be Nigeria’s nemesis during the 1978 FIFA World Cup qualifying rounds.
The Green Eagles managed a credible goalless draw in Tunisia only to suffer a 1-0 blow at home in the second leg.
The two nations continued their acrimonious clashes in the 11th Africa Cup of Nations third-place match with Ghana ’78.
Mohamed Amid gave the Tunisians a lead in the 19th minute, but Baba Otu Mohammed equalized for the Nigerians just before halftime to the chagrin of their opponents.
Unable to contain their anger, the Tunisian players walked out in protest at the refereeing. As a result, CAF awarded Nigeria a 2–0 victory and Tunisia was excluded from the next tournament.
In July 1980, almost 20 years after their first win, Nigeria finally recorded their second win over Tunisia, winning 2–0 in Lagos two weeks after losing by the scoreline in Tunisia.
But it was the West Africans who advanced on penalties to the second round of the 1982 FIFA World Cup qualifying series.
In 1984, a first international friendly match between the two nations was organized to smooth over tense relations.
Still, it turned out to be a sad day for the Green Eagles as Tunisia cruised to a 5-0 win, their biggest win over the Nigerians.
Nigeria quickly put defeat behind them the following year, with a 1-0 win during another World Cup qualifier. But the North Africans responded with a 2-0 win a fortnight later.
A second international friendly match ended 1-1 in 1992 before host Tunisia defeated Nigeria 2-0 in the final of the inaugural LG Cup in 1997.
Nigeria, co-hosting AFCON 2000 with Ghana, shared Group D with Tunisia.
A brace by the mercurial Austin Okocha and Victor Ikpeba helped the Super Eagles win 4-2 in front of more than 80,000 spectators at the Lagos National Stadium.
Jay Jay Okocha was voted the best player of Tunisia 2004, but it was the hosts who eliminated the Nigerians from the tournament on penalties after the score in regulation time was 1-1.
A similar result was repeated in the following edition in Egypt, but it was Nigeria’s turn to overcome the Carthage Eagles on penalties.
Three more ties between the two nations followed between 2009 and 2016 before the match re-emerged in 2021 in the Africa Cup of Nations third place match.
Odion Ighalo’s goal in the third minute at Cairo’s Al Salam Stadium was all it took for the Super Eagles to overcome Algeria and secure the tournament’s bronze medal.
Their most recent meeting was a friendly match in Austria in October 2020, which ended 1-1 with Nigeria scoring.
Nigeria have been excellent so far in Cameroon and the only team with a perfect record with three wins in three of their group stage campaign file.
There’s a reason for that: They lead the entire field in shots per game (16).
They put up a serious score, when they not only beat a much-loved Egypt team in the first game, but also shut them out, allowing just four shots and have gone from strength to strength ever since.
In current form, they should have no problem dispatching a Tunisian team that “luckily” fell in this round as one of the third-best teams after losing two of three group stage matches.
The Tunisians could only defeat the minnows from Mauritania while losing to Mali and Gambia.
Adding to their woes is the fact that the Tunisian camp has been somewhat devastated in testing and there is still no indication as to whether their star players, including Wahbi Khazri, will return for this game.
The Eagles of Carthage of Tunisia
Both countries are led. Mondher Kebaier will sit on the bench for the Tunisians.
The match will be Eguavoen’s 16th for Nigeria in three periods, during which they emerged victorious from the field in 13 of the previous 15, with only two narrow defeats.
He is also the only man to have coached Nigeria to win all three group stage matches in AFCON, achieving this on his two AFCON odysseys in 2006 and 2022.
Eguavoen, however, has underlined the need not to take the Tunisians for granted and added that he expects a tough duel between the two teams.
“I expect a very tough game against the Tunisians. Our group will not be lulled into any sense of superiority over any team here until we do business in the field.
“Tunisia is a big name in African football and we must recognize that, despite the way it got to this stage.
“We have seen some of their games and from what we know of them in the distant past and in lucid memory, they are never a team to take for granted.”
Also read: Tunisia good test for Eagles, says Moses Simon
Eguavoen’s 51 caps for Nigeria did not include a meeting with Tunisia, but he was head coach of the Super Eagles when Nigeria defeated the Carthage Eagles on penalties in Port Said, Egypt, 16 years ago.
It was a sweet win for the Eagles as they eliminated the Cup champions from the tournament at the quarter-final stage.
“That was a huge, huge, memorable game for me. The match ended 1-1 in regular time and in extra time and we had to go on penalties.
“We missed two of our first three shots or something and then we came back when our goalkeeper (Vincent Enyeama) saved two of his shots. It was a sweet victory”, recalled Eguavoen.