A long-range shot at the beginning of the second half and a red card to Alex Iwobi was all that was needed by Tunisia to knock the Super Eagles of Nigeria out of the 2021 Nations Cup.
The group performances did not matter on Sunday. While Nigeria topped Group D with nine points in the first round, Tunisia qualified for the second round as one of four best third-place finishers, from Group E.
Coach Augustine Eguavoen named his preferred starting 11 against Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles and the Super Eagles started on the front foot. Moses Simon won Nigeria’s first corner kick after just 30 seconds and Wilfred Ndidi tried a bicycle kick after two minutes, an effort which went wide.
Samuel Chukwueze tried a shot from just outside the box in the fifth but the shot was off target. Despite the initial pressure, it was Tunisia that had the first gilt-edged chance in the 10th minute but Ndidi was well positioned on the line to block Montassar Talbi’s goal-bound effort.
In the 12th minute, Joe Aribo got on the end of Moses’ pass but his attempt at goal was blocked for a corner kick. From the ensuing corner, Ndidi had another attempt as Nigeria tried to score an early goal.
There were some full-blooded tackles in the first quarter of the game as the two sides sized themselves up. Kelechi Iheanacho was shown the first yellow card of the encounter for a slap on Bilel Ifa’s face. Hamza Rafia had a shot in anger for the Tunisians as they grew more confident and had more of the ball possession.
The second half started with Youssef Msakni giving the Carthage Eagles the lead with a well-driven shot that caught Maduka Okoye unawares. It was the first time the Super Eagles had gone behind in the tournament.
A better first touch from Kelechi Iheanacho could have created a shooting chance in the 51st minute. The Eagles were now under the cush as the Tunisians’ defensive setup prevented any clear-cut chances. Eguavoen sent on Alex Iwobi and Peter Olayinka for Iheanacho and Awoniyi but things just got worse for the Eagles.
A studs-on-stamp from Iwobi was deemed worthy of a VAR check and the earlier yellow card was upgraded to a red in the 59th minute. The Everton man was on the pitch for just four minutes before he was expelled.
After this, it was a mountain to climb as the Tunisians took every opportunity to waste time. Sadiq Umar almost got the equaliser in the second minute of added-on time but his effort beat the goalkeeper and dribbled past the post to extinguish the last hopes of the Super Eagles.
So, Tunisia with seven missing players and their coach shocked the Nigerians and march on into the quarter-finals to face Burkina Faso, who had earlier overcome Gabon on penalties.
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