Eagles at War as Nigeria, Tunisia Battle for Bronze

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After failing to reach the final of the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations with that last thunderbolt by Riyad Mahrez of Algeria that crushed Nigeria’s fourth title ambition, history favours the Super Eagles to beat the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia to claim the bronze medals.

Of the seven times that Nigeria has played in this losers’ final, the Super Eagles have never lost a third place match at the AFCON.

It was like that 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).

Will Coach Gernot Rohr and his wards keep tradition going or would enter into record books as the first generation that failed in that task of bringing home to football-mad Nigerians what is now termed ‘Golden bronze’ as consolation?

With that less than convincing display from the semi final clash with Algeria last Sunday, not even the incurable optimists amongst Nigerian football fans is ready to wager a bet on this 2019 Eagles. They are simply not convincing in all departments.

This perhaps may make the encounter with Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles another moment of anxiety for our countrymen (and women). It is bound to be a feisty confrontation of Eagles as the Tunisians appear more convincing to walk away with the consolation third place medals at the end of hostilities at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo this night.

However, if Rohr is able to tinker with his team for the Eagles to be able to lift their game to the level that saw them crush both Cameroon and South Africa, perhaps that may assuage the anger of Nigerians calling for his sack.

Nigeria, in her 18th appearance at the Cup of Nations, has made the semi finals for the 15th time – a remarkable record of almost always getting to the business end of the championship. The country has failed to reach the semi finals only thrice before: 1963 (debut, in Ghana), 1982 (Libya), 2008 (Ghana).

Of the 15 times Nigeria has made the semi finals, the Eagles have gone ahead to win the title three times, picked up the silver medals four times and won bronze medals seven times.

The silver medals have come from Cote d’Ivoire 1984 (after losing final to Cameroon); Morocco 1988 (after losing final to Cameroon); Algeria 1990 (after losing final to Algeria) and; Ghana/Nigeria 2000 (after losing final to Cameroon).

Triumphs have come from Nigeria 1980 (after beating Algeria in final in Lagos); Tunisia 1994 (after beating Zambia in final in Tunis) and; South Africa 2013 (after beating Burkina Faso in Johannesburg).

The only previous time both Eagles have clashed in the third place match of the Africa Cup of Nations was in 1978, but the encounter in Accra did not end as the Tunisians abandoned the match following Segun Odegbami’s equalizer late in the first half.

CAF duly awarded the match to Nigeria 2-0 and the Green Eagles received the bronze medals.

In other confrontations at the Africa Cup of Nations, Nigeria lashed Tunisia 4-2 in a group phase match at the 2000 finals that Nigeria and Ghana co-hosted, while Tunisia, also on home ground, edged Nigeria on penalties after their semi final clash in Rades in 2004 was stalemated at 1-1 after regulation and extra time.

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

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.

Tunisia famously stopped Nigeria in the race to the 1978 FIFA World Cup (defender Godwin Odiye scoring in his own net in Lagos in November 1977), but Nigeria also eliminated Tunisia from the race to Spain 1982 after penalty shoot-out in Lagos following a 2-2 aggregate scoreline.

Tunisia ejected Nigeria from the race to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, winning 2-1 on aggregate, but Nigeria rode on Tunisia to reach the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted by South Africa – the first FIFA World Cup staged on African soil.