Tunisia’s campaign has been somewhat ravaged by positive COVID tests and the team only qualified for the knockout stage as one of the best losers, finishing in third place behind The Gambia and Mali, and winning only one of their three matches while losing the other two.
“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.”
Eguavoen’s 51 caps for Nigeria did not include an encounter with Tunisia, but he was head coach of the Super Eagles when Nigeria upended the Carthage Eagles on penalty shootout in Port Said in Egypt 16 years ago to send the Cup holders out of the tournament at the quarter final stage.
“That was a huge, huge game and a memorable one for me. The match ended 1-1 in regulation and extra time and we had to go into penalties. We lost two of our first three kicks or something like that and then bounced back when our goalkeeper (Vincent Enyeama) stopped two of their kicks. It was a sweet victory,” Eguavoen said.
At the Al Masry Stadium on 4th February 2006, Obinna Nsofor scored for Nigeria before Karim Haggui levelled for the Cup holders. In the shootout, Joseph Yobo and Yusuf Ayila missed as Chedli and Ben Achour did for Tunisia. Taye Taiwo, Nsofor and Obafemi Martins scored, as did Namouchi, Guemamdia and Jose Clayton for Tunisia. In sudden death, John Mikel Obi and goalkeeper Enyeama scored for Nigeria as did goalkeeper Ali Boumnijel and Hadj Massaoud for Tunisia, but after Nwankwo Kanu scored for Nigeria, Riadh Bouazizi saw his kick saved by Enyeama.
In dim and distant memory, Tunisia reached the final round of the 1978 FIFA World Cup African series after an own goal by Godwin Odiye in Lagos on 12th November 1977 eliminated Nigeria, but the following year, Nigeria earned the bronze medals of the 11th AFCON when Tunisia abandoned the match in the 42nd minute following an equalizer by Baba Otu Mohammed. Nigera were awarded the match 2-0.
In 1980, both countries tied 2-2 on aggregate in a Spain 82 World Cup qualifying fixture, with Nigeria proceeding after penalty shootout. In 1985, Tunisia edged their 1986 World Cup qualifying fixture 2-1 on aggregate – a lone goal by Okey Isima cancelled out with a two-goal blitz in the first 15 minutes of the return inside the Stade El Menzah in Tunis.
In recent and decent memory, Nigeria edged their opening encounter of the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations 4-2 in Lagos, with Jay Jay Okocha and Victor Ikpebe earning a brace each. In 2009, a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying fixture ended 0-0 and 2-2 in Tunis and Abuja, and in 2019 Nigeria won the bronze medals of the 32nd AFCON 1-0 in Cairo at the expense of the Carthage Eagles.
Their most recent encounter was a friendly game in Austria in October 2020, which ended 1-1 with Nigeria’s goal scored by Kelechi Iheanacho.
On Sunday at the Stade Roumdé Adjia, Nigeria will file out with three wins in three from their group phase campaign. The Tunisians were only able to defeat Mauritania while losing to Mali and The Gambia. Both countries are led by indigenous coaches. Mondher Kebaier will sit on the Tunisians’ bench.
The match will be Eguavoen’s 16th for Nigeria across three stints, during which he has walked off the pitch victorious 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 phase matches at the AFCON, achieving this in both his AFCON odysseys in 2006 and 2022.
The usual in-tournament extra incentives – a practice entrenched over the decades – have started flowing in for the Eagles. 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 N50million if the team marches to the final on 6th February and is triumphant.
Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele says 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 in the Round of 16 clash with Tunisia.
Airline owner Onyema had earlier promised the team the sum of N10million for every goal.
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