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Super Eagles set for must-win clash with Tunisia in Garoua

Nigeria’s dream of making it beyond the Round of 16 stage has been made harder after the Super Eagles were pitched against the Carthage Eagles…

Nigeria’s dream of making it beyond the Round of 16 stage has been made harder after the Super Eagles were pitched against the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in the ongoing 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

The Super Eagles, who are brimming with so much confidence after finishing the group stage as the only country to win all three games may not be counting themselves lucky after they were drawn against Tunisia on Thursday.

However, if the performance of the two opponents is anything to go by, then the Super Eagles are highly favoured to progress at the expense of the North Africans. This assertion is not unfounded because in Cameroon, the Tunisians have barely made much of a statement during their opening three games. But this is not to write off the former champions.

With the Carthage Eagles booking their place in the knockout phase of the competition as one of the four third-placed countries after a shock 0-1 loss to the Gambia on Thursday night, the Mondher Kebaier’s side will no doubt want to shock bookmakers by winning the trophy they last won in 2004.

Meanwhile, ahead of the must-win match, the Super Eagles who are brimming with confidence are not ready to take anything for granted. They know they would pay dearly for complacency against the Carthage Eagles who are eager to make amends for their mishaps in the group phase.

Coach Augustine Eguavoen has been able to keep all his players fresh and fit, unlike the North Africans who have been hit with players returning positive results for the COVID-19 virus.

According to the record books, Nigeria and Tunisia have met 20 times in all competitions such as the Africa Cup of Nations, LG Cup, international friendlies, FIFA world cup qualifiers and African Nations championships.

The first meeting between both sides’ dates back to November 25, 1961 when Nigeria won 2-1 in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying game while the most recent game was an international friendly game on October 13, 2020.

However, in the history of the AFCON, both sides have met four times with Nigeria having the upper hand.

The West Africans squared up against the North Africans for the first time in the third-place game of Ghana 1978. With the score tied at 1-1 at the Accra Sports Stadium, the Tunisians walked off the pitch in the 42nd minute to protest what they termed bad officiating. The Confederation of African Football awarded the Super Eagles a 2-0 win while banning the Carthage Eagles from the 1980 edition.

26 years , the two sides met at Stade 7 November, Tunis as hosts Tunisia defeated the three-time African champions 5-3 on penalties after the score ended 1-1 after 120 minutes.

Two years later in the competition, Nigeria avenged their loss by silencing the Tunisians in the quarter-final at the Port Said Stadium in Egypt.

It is also a reunion for Austin Eguavoen, who faced Tunisia at the quarter-finals stage at AFCON 2006 also in Egypt. Nigeria won 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 draw to advance into the semi-finals

Their last AFCON outing was in Egypt 2019 when Odion Ighalo’s first-half strike settled the third-place showdown between Gernot Rohr’s men and the North Africans in the fight for the bronze medal.

Ahead of tomorrow’s fixture, Eguavoen has said he will approach the game with the same winning mentality except that the tactic might be different.  

“Tunisia is a strong North Africa team but we will continue to work hard as we have always done, same approach, same determination, tactics might differ a little bit. So we are ready and today (Friday), we work on how we will approach Tunisia’s game.

“They have ups and downs in the campaign but to have qualified for the knockout stage is a different ball game. If you don’t get the round of 16 well, you are off and if you do, you are off to the quarter-finals. It will be a very different game, so we will find a way to counter them during the game.

“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 the business on the field. Tunisia is a big name in African football and we must acknowledge that, despite the manner in which they reached this stage.

“We have watched 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,” he said.

Team Coordinator and former international, Patrick Pascal, said the players are looking forward to the game and will do everything necessary to secure the quarter-final slot

“The boys know how strong the Tunisians are. They may not have played well in the group stages but can pick up against us, so we will be ready for them so we can qualify for the quarter-finals,” he said.

Meanwhile, it is dollar rain for the Eagles as billionaire businessman Femi Otedola has dedicated the naira equivalent of $250,000 for the team to win the trophy, just as airline owner Allen Onyema has promised N50m if the team marches to the final on 6th February and is triumphant.

He had earlier promised the team the sum of 10 Million for every goal.   So far, the Super Eagles have scored six goals and are N60m richer already.

The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, also said the CACOVID (a coalition of private sector companies set up to fight COVID pandemic in Nigeria) will shell out the sum of $120,000 for the six goals already scored by the Eagles in Cameroon, and $50,000 (naira equivalent) for every goal they score in the Round of 16 clash with Tunisia. 

So the stage is set and the winner of the Round of 16 match to be held at the Roumde Adjia Stadium in Garoua will face either Burkina Faso or Gabon in the quarter-finals.

Jide Olusola is in Garoua, Cameroon

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