A potentially tricky tie awaits the West Africans on Sunday when they face their North African counterparts in the Round of 16 clash
After a two-day break at the end of the group stage, the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations returns today with two of the scheduled eight Round-of-16 matches.
Burkina Faso will first trade tackles with Gabon at the Stade Limbe before Nigeria take on Tunisia at the Stade Omnisports Roumde Adjia.
The Super Eagles qualified top of Group D with nine points and would have preferred a tie with a less-fancied opponent than former champions Tunisia.
But the Carthage Eagles struggled to make it out of Group F after losing to Mali and Gambia, finishing in third place.
Nigeria are favourites ahead of the contest but the unexpected often happens in knockout football. Augustine Eguavoen and his men will be wise not to underrate the COVID-19 depleted North Africans.
The smart money is on the Nigerian coach unleashing his best stars on the 2004 Afcon winners to seal progress to the quarterfinals.
Eguavoen deployed the same starting eleven in the first two matches against Egypt and Sudan, but he introduced eight new pairs of legs against Guinea-Bissau with qualification already secured.
While the performance level did not drop significantly, only one or two of the newbies produced a display that could match the output of the regulars.
It is therefore expected that Eguavoen will likely recall most of the first-team players.
Maduka Okoye should return to his goalkeeping duties between the posts despite Francis Uzoho’s fine showing against the African Wild Dogs.
The defensive wall formed by the quartet of Ola Aina, William Troost-Ekong, Kenneth Omeruo, and Zaidu Sanusi has been solid at this championship, and it could be raised again to keep out the rampant Tunisians.
Statistically, Wilfred Ndidi has been the best defensive midfielder at the Afcon. And together with sleek operator Joe Aribo, their partnership should trouble the Carthage Eagles in midfield.
Alex Iwobi is pushing for a start ahead of Samuel Chukwueze on the right flank. And with the Villarreal man still finding his groove, Eguavoen could give the Everton playmaker a chance to impress again from the start on Sunday evening.
There is yet no competition for Moses Simon on the left-wing, though. The Nantes man is arguably Nigeria’s most exciting player in Cameroon, and he could be the difference-maker again for the Eagles.
Kelechi Iheanacho has not received enough commendation for his excellent displays. Still, he is highly rated by the coach, and he is one of those whose starting shirt is almost guaranteed.
Umar Sadiq netted the opener in the 2-0 triumph over Guinea-Bissau, but he should make way for Awoniyi to lead the attack against Sunday’s foes.
The Union Berlin’s man has not been prolific in Cameroon, but his intelligent movements, his work rate, and his hold-up play have provided the Super Eagles with a solid foothold in the final third.
Super Eagles likely lineup vs. Tunisia’s Eagles:
GK: Maduka Okoye; RB: Ola Aina, CB: William Troost-Ekong, CB: Kenneth Omeruo, LB: Zaidu Sanusi; DM: Wilfred Ndidi, CM: Joe Aribo, RW: Alex Iwobi, LW: Moses Simon; SS: Kelechi Iheanacho CF: Taiwo Awoniyi.