The group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations are over, and it is time to get into serious business. The round of 16 matches kick-off on Sunday, and at this point, any mistake could result in dire consequences.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria have been handed a tricky round of 16 tie against the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia.
It was a tale of contrasting fortunes for both sides in the group stage. While Nigeria were absolutely outstanding in Group D, winning all three of their games, the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia were abysmal, securing only three points in a group that had Mali, Mauritania, and debutants the Gambia.
Nonetheless, any draw against the Tunisians is a potential banana peel.
History at AFCON
This year’s edition of the Africa Cup of Nations is Tunisia’s 20th, but the Carthage Eagles have only one AFCON triumph to their name, and that was in 2004 when they beat Morocco in the finals.
Since then, the best that they have achieved is the Semi-final, and that was in 2019 when Nigeria beat them to claim bronze. In fact, they only progressed past the quarter-finals just once in their last eight appearances at the African showpiece.
The Tunisians are familiar foes. Nigeria have faced the Carthage Eagles 16 times, with the most recent being a friendly match in October 2020, which ended in a 1-1 draw. In 2010 and 2013, they were ousted in the group stage.
Both sides have five wins apiece and six draws in their 16 meetings. Although, Nigeria have had the upper hand in the recent ties, beating Tunisia 1-0 in the third-place match at the 2019 AFCON.
Also, Nigeria have not lost to the Carthage Eagles in the last five meetings, but four of those results were draws.
The Carthage Eagles are tutored by coach Mondher Kebaier. He has spent about 29 months on the job, so he is already familiar with his players.
The North Africans are known for their disciplined and intricate style of play. They could also throw in their antics whenever necessary. They are also very quick and like to build from behind.
And it was evident in their game against Mauritania in the group stage, although they struggled to replicate that same performance against Mali and Gambia.
But their Achilles heel could be their defence. The Tunisians conceded goals against Mali and Gambia in a very questionable fashion.
The team is built around players that ply their trades in Africa, albeit they also have some stars in Europe.
Their most prominent player and the captain Wahbi Khazri plays in the French Ligue 1 for St. Etienne.
They also have other players that could wreak havoc if the Nigerian side are not careful. Ali Maaloul and Seifeddine Jaziri could take advantage of any defensive lapses.
However, in what is good news for Nigeria, the Tunisian camp are currently suffering from a Covid-19 outbreak.
Twelve of their players, including Captain Khazri and Maaloul, are currently out and are big doubts ahead of the game on Sunday. In their game against the Gambia on Thursday, coach Kebaier named only seven substitutes.
Super Eagles should be careful
The Tunisians won a penalty each in all three of their group stage games. Even though the Tunisians have not offered a lot going forward, especially against Gambia and Mali, they won penalties in all their games. However, they missed all of those penalties.
Nigeria should be careful, and mistakes like the one Ola Aina made against Guinea-Bissau could be costly.