How Tunisia Defeated Nigeria in the AFCON 2021 Round of 16

How Tunisia Defeated Nigeria in the AFCON 2021 Round of 16

The Super Eagles were not supposed to lose so ignominiously so soon after a dominant group stage performance in which they rolled over their opponents on their way to three straight victories. That, however, is exactly what occurred.

After a tepid first half, Tunisia took the lead early in the second half when stand-in skipper Youssef Msakni beat Maduka Okoye from a distance with a rasping shot.
Flustered, the Super Eagles attempted to regroup by substituting Alex Iwobi for Kelechi Iheanacho, only to have the substitute sent off for a dangerous tackle after only seven minutes.
Afcon winners

 

 

 

In a tournament that held so much promise, the Super Eagles found themselves bundled out by one of the best-placed fourth ranked teams from the group stage. How did this happen?

Pre-tournament issues

A month to the AFCON 2021 tournament, the Nigerian Football Federation dismissed head coach Gernot Rohr and appointed former Super Eagles Captain Augustin Eguavoen as interim manager.

Many Nigerian football fans, predictably questioned the timing of the change and wondered how far the Super Eagles would be able to go at AFCON 2021 due to the disruption in team preparation.

In another setback, Eguavoen was deprived of several key stars with key strikers Emmanuel Dennis and Odion Ighalo being held back by their clubs. Victor Osimhen also missed the tournament due to an injury.

Tunisia shutting down Super Eagles Supply Lines

When it was announced that 12 Tunisian players, as well as head coach Mondher Kebaier, were out after testing positive for COVID, even the most ardent Tunisian supporter would have predicted a Nigerian victory. Instead, the North Africans outplayed the Super Eagles to claim a well-deserved win. How did they accomplish this?
From kick-off it was clear that the Tunisian team was set up in a narrow 4-3-3, limiting the ability of the Nigerian midfield to dominate that zone.

After the game, Tunisian assistant coach Jalel Kadri revealed a key part of their strategy: doubling up on Nigerian wingers at every opportunity, particularly the dangerous Moses Simon. In his own words: “We know Nigeria are very strong and very fast in the wings. Today we came up with tactics to put pressure on then Nigerian wingers because they are very dangerous. And we also know they have difficulties in when they lose the ball.”
In the second half, Eguavoen replaced Kelechi Iheanacho with Alex Iwobi, clearly hoping to seize control of the midfield. That plan, however, was dashed when Iwobi was sent off minutes later, effectively confirming Nigeria’s defeat.

Conclusion

Despite missing out on that AFKON feeling prematurely, Nigerians will be appeased if the Super Eagles qualify for this year’s World Cup. With new manager Jose Peserio expected to take over this month, all hands have to be on deck to ensure that when the Super Eagles face old foe Ghana in March, they book a ticket to the Qatar tournament.

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Author: Clayton Kuhn