NIGERIA-TUNISIA PREVIEW: Eagles Seek Bronze Comforts

Odion Jude Ighalo of Nigeria celebrating scoring to 1-1 during the 2019 African Cup of Nations match between Algeria and Nigeria at the Cairo International Stadium in Cairo, Egypt on July 14,2019. (Photo by Ulrik Pedersen/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Whoever conceived the idea of awarding bronze at the Africa Cup of Nations must have been Nigerian. Or perhaps he had Nigeria – more than any other national team — in mind.

The Super Eagles’ streak of reaching the Afcon’s semi-finals — a record 15 times — sounds impressive, but their feat of winning every third-place playoff game they have been involved in is even more remarkable: a perfect six.

At Cairo’s Al Salam Stadium on July 17, Nigeria attempt a seventh; Tunisia are the opponents, just as in 1978. But while Nigeria has made a habit of emerging third, the Carthage Eagles boast the distinction of securing bronze the first time it was contested in Afcon history, 57 years ago. Since then, Tunisia have featured in two more and lost both, including the aforementioned instance against Nigeria.

Not that either convocation of Eagles would have wished to finish their Afcon 2019 campaign two days before Friday’s final. Defeats by narrow margins to favorites Senegal and Algeria — courtesy Dylan Bronn’s bizarre own goal and Riyad Mahrez’s game-ending freekick respectively — last Sunday denied them the opportunity to fetch bigger prizes. Both sides are smarting, reasonably, but they cannot afford to lose shape lest they exit empty-handed. Arsenal star Alex Iwobi is keenly aware of his country’s own need.

Senegal v Tunisia: Semi Final - 2019 Africa Cup of Nations : News Photo

“Even though we lost the semi-final, of course it hurts, there is no better place to put it right than in the third-fourth place play-off match,” the Lagos-born, London-bred forward says.

“We are a young team and hope to return home with the third place. We will enter the game with the needed respect and seriousness.”

Alain Giresse, Tunisia’s manager, knows his men are in for a “psychologically tough encounter” but admits they “are not over that defeat from Senegal yet.”

Still, Tunisia must rouse themselves for this last fight.

“This is football and we understand the whole team’s disappointment – but we have to forget that and focus on Nigeria game,” Giresse stated at a pre-match press conference.

The Frenchman is right: third place is often the mentally tougher side’s to claim. Come Wednesday, we would know which country that is.

Sammie Frimpong — Daily Mail GH

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