By Bolaji Okunola
Nigeria’s interim manager Augustine Eguavoen says he expects a tough duel between the Super Eagles and the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations Round of 16 encounter in Garoua.
“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.
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.