AFCON 2019: Nigeria, Tunisia set to battle for bronze

AFCON: Super Eagles training alongside its head coach, Gernot Rohr. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official Twitter handle of the Super Eagles.]
AFCON: Super Eagles training alongside its head coach, Gernot Rohr. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official Twitter handle of the Super Eagles.]

The third-place match of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) pitches Nigeria’s Super Eagles against the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia.

Having suffered heartbreaks in their semi-final matches against Algeria and Senegal respectively, Nigeria and Tunisia are keen to bow out on a high by winning Wednesday’s bronze medal contest.

The records

Going by the records, Nigeria are ‘masters’ when it comes to winning bronze medals at AFCON. While that may not be an enviable record, Coach Gernot Rohr’s men would be more than glad to add to the country’s bronze medal collection on Wednesday night.

Nigeria have never lost a third-place match at the Africa Cup of Nations, winning in Ethiopia in 1976 (against Guinea), Ghana in 1978 (against Tunisia), Senegal in 1992 (against Cameroon), Mali in 2002 (against Mali), Tunisia in 2004 (against Mali), Egypt in 2006 (against Senegal) and Angola in 2010 (against Algeria).

There is also more room for optimism as Nigeria have never lost against Tunisia in four encounters at AFCON; winning twice and drawing twice.

Perhaps the most memorable clash between the two at the AFCON remains the quarter-final battle in 2006, also in Egypt.

Then Cup holders Tunisia shot into a comfortable lead during the penalty shoot-out following another 1-1 stalemate after regulation and extra time at the El Masry Stadium in Port Said.

But Nigeria rallied through saves by goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and the Eagles eliminated the defending champions.

Unfortunately, the Eagles no longer boast of highly-rated goalkeepers like Enyeama. But nonetheless, those in the present set-up are expected to do their best to get victory on Wednesday in Cairo.

How they have fared

The 2019 AFCON has been a bag of mixed fortunes for Nigeria and Tunisia.

The Carthage Eagles reached the semifinal for the first time since winning the title at home in 2004, having beaten Madagascar 3-0 for their sole outright victory in open play.

The North Africans registered three draws in the three group stage matches, drawing one all with Angola and Mali.

They also played a goalless match against Mauritania.

In the Round of 16, they eliminated Ghana in post-match penalties after a 1-1 draw.

For three-time champions, Nigeria outwitted newcomers Burundi 1-0.

They won 2-0 over Guinea and lost to the flamboyant debutants Madagascar 2-0.

Nigeria then defeated title-holders Cameroon 3-2 in the Round of 16.

During the quarter-final, Rohr’s men defeated South Africa 2-1 and bowed in the semifinals to Algeria 2-1.

As expected, the two coaches are talking tough even as they reiterate they are putting a premium on the bronze medal having missed out on the chance of winning the trophy

What the managers are saying:

Gernot Rohr, Head Coach, Nigeria

We will keep focused in the third-place playoff and hope to sign off with a happy result. I worked in Tunisia, but on the pitch this means nothing. Both teams have similar ambitions and many young players who would like to win. Alain Giresse is an experienced coach and I’m always happy to play against him. When you are one of the four best teams in the continent, this is a good result and we have to build on it. this is a team with a brilliant future.

Alain Giresse, Head Coach, Tunisia

“Our target was more than just reaching the semifinal. but now we focus on the game against Nigeria and hope to win the third-place. I believe this is going to be a psychologically tough encounter because we are not over that defeat from Senegal yet. I cannot say all our players are fit after playing two extra times but we will do our best. This is football and we understand the whole team’s disappointment. but we have to forget that and focus on the Nigeria game.”

Nigeria’s captain, Mikel Obi, promised that the Super Eagles will fight hard against the Carthage Eagles on Wednesday in order to salvage something from the tournament.

“We are as disappointed with the result as our fans, but that is football. We really and truly appreciate the support of the Federal Government and also the NFF.

“We are determined to go into Wednesday’s game with renewed commitment and hunger so that we do not leave this competition empty-handed,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Confederation of African Football, CAF, has appointed renown Egyptian referee, Gehad Grisha, to take charge of proceedings.

Grisha was in charge of two matches of the Super Eagles during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign: the 2-1 victory over Zambia in Ndola on October 2016 and the 4-0 victory over Cameroon in Uyo on September 2017.

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