igeria had the best record in the group stage, with nine points, six goals, and only one goal conceded. They faced Tunisia in the knockout round. Many of the Super Eagles supporters were already relishing a tense final against hosts Cameroon. The Africa Cup of Nations would have come to a magnificent conclusion if that was to be. That dream is no longer a reality.
Tunisians were not exactly svelte. They squeaked through the group stages with three points, losing to debutants Gambia, and finishing in the top four third-placed teams.
When the two African footballing giants clashed in Garoua on Sunday night, the form book was thrown out the window. In the first half, neither team had much of an advantage over the other. In a tight, tightly contested game, few opportunities were produced.
When the second half began, though, the Carthage Eagles were the first to get going, as Youssef Msakni scored from outside the box with a low strike that beat goalkeeper Maduka Okoye. Even as Nigeria hurled bodies forward, the Tunisians hung in there.
To freshen up the attack, Nigerian coach Austin Eguavoen substituted Alex Iwobi for Kelechi Iheanacho. However, the Everton player was sent out for a violent tackle just minutes later. Nigeria needed to come up with something unique, but they were unable to do so due to Tunisia’s defensive tenacity.
Tunisia was missing seven players due to COVID-19 testing. Mondher Kebaier, the team’s head coach, was also absent, leaving Jalal Qaderi in charge. Perhaps it was because of this catastrophe that Tunisians were able to unite, remain focused, and decide to fight to the finish.
Due to a lack of players, the goalscorer known as Msakni, a veteran of previous AFCON campaigns, was forced to start. His experience, though, came in handy that night.
After the game, Msakni accepted the man-of-the-match award and said, “The victory was a gift for our people.” It was a significant victory for the Tunisian people, who had been waiting for a second African crown since 2004. And they’ll be hoping that this victory would help them advance further in the competition.
Nigeria has a number of challenges to address prior to the event. A month before the season began, they fired their long-time manager, Gernot Rohr. Interim coach Eguavoen was brought in as a former player who won the championship in 1994. He was familiar with the team as the NFF’s Technical Director, where he oversaw the country’s football growth.
His first three games in charge were Nigeria’s greatest start at the AFCON since he led them to the tournament in 2006, when they won all three of their group games and advanced to the semi-finals before finishing third. His dreams of going one better this season were shattered when the Super Eagles appeared to be sluggish with the ball.
Perhaps it was the fact that he appeared to have been discovered because he used the same starting lineup and tactics as in his first two games. His deployment had no element of surprise. As a result, the Tunisians were able to hold off his team. When master dribbler Moses Simon attempted to carry the ball inside the box, he was met with two or three defenders. They were left to fire errant shots from the outside in an attempt to undermine Tunisia’s resolve.
After the match, Eguavoen has this to say: “We tried to come back, we chased the game and then we got a red card. It is very difficult when you play against a tactical side like Tunisia”.
After giving their fans a lot of optimism in the last week, Nigeria will return home with their heads bent. With the team’s substantive coach, Jose Peseiro, on the verge of taking charge, they will be hoping they are mentally prepared when they face Ghana in the World Cup play-offs in March.
Meanwhile, the Stallions of Burkina Faso upset the Panthers of Gabon on penalties to advance to the quarterfinals, where they will face Tunisia. Bertrand Traore scored for the Stallions after the captain had missed a penalty attempt in the first half.
Despite having a player sent off in the second half, the Gabonese rallied back and equalised late in injury time thanks to an Adama Guira own goal.
They made the most of the penalty shoot-out, winning 7-6 and ecstatically applauding their travelling followers.
In a latest development, Augustine Eguavoen, the temporary coach of the Nigerian National Team, has recently resigned.
This comes after the Super Eagles’ 1-0 round-of-16 loss to Tunisia in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
Eguavoen had led the three-time winners to victories over Egypt, Sudan, and Guinea-Bissau in a row.
In the final stages, though, they were defeated by a Tunisian squad lacking in all departments, from the defence to the attacking Frontline due to COVID.