AFCON 2021: Complacency is the Super Eagles’ biggest threat against Tunisia

Nigeria must be wary of Round of 16 opponents Tunisia, despite being clear favourites.

Nigeria vs Tunisia

The Super Eagles of Nigeria will play against Tunisia in the Round of 16, and Augustine Eguavoen’s men are the runaway favourites.

Nigeria won every game in Group D, and are the only team with a 100% record in the tournament where they have scored six goals and conceded just once.

Tunisia on the other hand massively underperformed in Group F: they were expected to finish top, but only managed a third-place finish behind Mali and Gambia. The Eagles of Carthage defeated Mauritania 4-0, their only win and points en route to a third-place finish.

It is not like they were unlucky with results either, the performances matched the results in both of their 1-0 losses in the Group Stage.

Nigeria on the other hand looked imperious in their three games, defending effectively and attacking potently with tricky winger Moses Simon their driving force.

With all that in mind, Nigeria’s margin as favourites has recently become even wider with reports of Tunisia’s COVID-related issues.

Tunisian head coach, Mondher Kebaier has reportedly tested positive for Covid-19 along with 12 players, including team captain and talisman, Wahbi Khazri.

Along with Khazri, Aissa Laidouni, Dylan Bronn, Ghaylène Chaalali, Ellyes Skhiri, Anis Ben Slimane, Mohamed Romdhane, Ali Maâloul, Ben Hmida, Aymen Dahmen, Yoann Touzgha and Issam Jebali are all expected to miss the game against Nigeria.

With all the information above, it is extremely difficult to see how Tunisia can win under these circumstances or even with their full squad.

While that is true, it is important for the Super Eagles to not have the same mentality and act like this game is a foregone conclusion.

There is still a place for history in this clash of the Eagles and that paints a picture of a closer game than present form and circumstance suggest.

The Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia have played each other 20 times in history with both teams having won six each and eight games ended in a draw.

The most recent competitive instalment of this derby of Eagles was the third-place playoff at the last AFCON in Egypt which Nigeria won 1-0.

If the Super Eagles were to use Tunisia’s group stage record as an opportunity to become complacent, they may be in for a rude awakening similar to what Egypt experienced in 2019.

The Pharaohs of Egypt ran through the Group Stage of AFCON 2019 which they hosted, winning every group stage game without conceding a goal.

They were matched up in the Round of 16 with South Africa who had qualified out of their group by the skin of their teeth. Bafana Bafana had won only one game and qualified for the next round as a third-place team with three points.

But in rather astonishing fashion, South Africa ousted Egypt in the Round of 16, Thembinkosa Lorch’s 85th-minute goal proved the difference and shocked Egypt back to life.

The same fate could potentially await Nigeria if they fixate too much on Tunisia’s poor group stage outing or take too much confidence from the news COVID-19 ravaging their squad.

Augustine Eguavoen has the responsibility of reminding his charges that Tunisia are ranked number four in Africa for a reason, they have to play with the seriousness and intensity that was visible in their opening game against Egypt.

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