Two groups of Eagles — the Carthage of Tunisia and the Super Eagles of Nigeria—will engage in a battle for pride when they clash this evening in the third place match at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations today at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo.
The North Africans have displayed equal strength as their West African counterparts in this competition so far, winning two games each in their last four matches to make this clash one fit for the gods.
For the second time since 1978, Nigeria and Tunisia are competing for the third spot in the tournament and the two giants are determined to make a mark after their title dreams fizzled out at the sem-final stage.
In 1978 when the two teams met in Ghana, it was the Carthage Eagles who triumphed with a 2-0 win after the game ended 1-1 in regulation time, making today’s clash a payback time for the Super Eagles.
Besides that, the Super Eagles have also enjoyed some superiority over the North African rivals with a 4-2 thrashing at the group stage of the competition co-hosted by Ghana and Nigeria in 2000 remaining the biggest defeat of the Tunisians.
Surprisingly, apart from that defeat, all their previous clashes had to be settled on penalties after a 1-1 draw in regulation time. Nigeria won 5-3 in the semi-finals of the 2004 tournament, while Tunisia were 6-5 victors in the quarter-finals two years later in Egypt.
As much as the third place honours might not be a big deal, both teams will ensure they do not return home empty-handed, having raised the hopes of their fans to return with the trophy.
Three-time champions Nigeria (1980, 1994 and 2013) have had an impressive ran in this competition after beating Burundi 1-0, defeating Guinea 1-0, losing 0-2 to Madagascar, beating defending champions Cameroun 3-2, and pipping South Africa 2-1 before losing 1-2 to Algeria in the semi-finals.
However, the 2004 champions never won a group stage game after drawing with Angola (1-1), Mali (1-1) and Mauritania (0-0), before beating Ghana 5-4 on penalties, following a 1-1 deadlock after 120 minutes at the Round of 16 stage. The Tunisians beat Madagascar 3-0 before losing 0-1 to Senegal in the semi-finals.
The bragging rights is now at stake between two great football rivals and their coaches, Frenchman Alain Giresse of Tunisia and Nigeria’s German coach, Gernot Rohr.
With an identical philosophy, the two coaches would have to inspire their sides endowed with super stars such as Idion Ighalo, Ahmed Musa and Alex Iwobi for Nigeria, and Youssef Msakni, Oussama Hadadi and Drager Mohamed for Tunisia to fight for victory.
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