TUNISIA’S CAF JOURNEY
Tunisia’s performance in the group stages left a lot to be desired. The North African team only managed to secure three points from three back to back draws; however, that was enough to see them through to the last 16 since Angola and Mauritania only managed to gain two points each.
Tunisia would face Ghana in the next round, a game that was slated to be a thriller between two tournament favorites, unfortunately, it ended up being quite underwhelming. During the first half, André Ayew scored for Ghana but his goal was disallowed for an alleged handball. Because VAR would not be used until the quarter-finals, the Ghanaians couldn’t appeal the referee to review his decision. The game remained relatively quiet until Taha Yassine Khenissi scored for Tunisia at the 73rd minute. For all intents and purposes, the game should have ended 1-0, but Tunisia made their jobs harder for themselves after substitute Rami Bedoui scored an own goal during injury time while trying to defend a free-kick. Both teams came close to scoring during extra time, but both goalkeepers made sure to keep their nations’ tournament dreams alive. Tunisia coach Alain Giresse subbed on goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha for the penalty shootout, which turned out to be a smart decision considering he made the crucial save that saw his team win 5-4.
Tunisia’s quarter-final performance against Madagascar was much more straightforward as three second-half goals from Ferjani Sassi, Youssef Msakni and Naïm Sliti ended the tournament underdog’s run. Tunisia dominated throughout the game, as they had 18 shots with 8 of them being on target.
Their semi-final against Senegal was drama-filled, as both teams were rewarded with a penalty during extra time, both of which were saved. Tunisia then treaded on familiar territory as they headed into their second extra time of the tournament, and in another repeated scenario Tunisian defender Dylan Bronn headed the ball into his own goal to give Senegal a 1-0 lead. With seven minutes remaining on the clock, the referee awarded Tunisia with a penalty for handball, but he then reversed his decision after consulting VAR causing heartbreak for the North Africans as they bowed out of the tournament through their own blunder.
NIGERIA’S CAF JOURNEY
Nigeria performed relatively well in the group stage, having won two games and lost one against Madagascar. Their last 16 game against Cameroon was a thrilling 3-2 win. Odion Ighalo put Nigeria’s Super Eagles in front at the 16th minute of the first half, but goals from Stéphane Bahoken and Clinton N'Jie, respectively put Cameroon 2-1 in front at half time. Nigeria went into the second half showing great teamwork, Ighalo scored his second goal of the game leveling the score 2-2. Then Arsenal winger Alex Iwobi scored at the 66th minute to make the score 3-2 in favor of Nigeria. The comeback instilled within the Nigerian team and the fans the belief that they can go far in the tournament, perhaps even win it.
Nigeria then faced South Africa in the quarter-finals. Having already knocked out hosts Egypt, South Africa were ready to do another tournament upset. South Africa’s poor defending saw Samuel Chukwueze score during the first half. Then South African midfielder Bongani Zungu scored a header from a free-kick during the last 20 minutes of the game. The match seemed destined to go into extra time, but an 89th-minute corner goal from William Troost-Ekong was enough to make Nigeria qualify for the semi-final.
Then came the big game against Algeria, as both teams were arguably the best in the tournament and many thought that the match would have been better suited as the final rather than the semi-final. As expected, both team’s put on a superb performance, as Algeria’s high pressing game caused Troost-Ekong, Nigeria’s hero from the last game, to accidentally put the goal into his own net, thus putting Algeria 1-0 in front. Both teams kept attacking, Algeria in search for the second goal that would put them in a comfortable position and Nigeria looking for that equalizing goal. Nigeria would eventually get a penalty during the second half after a VAR review confirmed Aissa Mandi handled the ball inside the penalty box. Odion Ighalo subsequently equalized for Nigeria, raising hopes that they can still make it to the final. The game went into injury time and seemed that it would slip into extra time, but Algeria were awarded a free-kick and Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez scored a beautiful goal that volleyed past both the wall and the goalkeeper, ending the game 2-1 for his team.
TUNISIA VS NIGERIA: A FORGETTABLE GAME
It is often said that the third-place playoff is the one game no international footballer wants to be a part of. The bronze medal game is often the target of jokes, as fans slate it as a competition for the losers’ medal, nevertheless it is still part of many international tournaments and losing semi-finalists have to take part in it, rather they like it or not.
Nigeria made an early impact as Ighalo scored at the third minute, which put his tournament total to five goals making him the top scorer as of the writing of this article. Tunisia tried to respond throughout the game incorporating their favored strategy of shooting from outside the box, hoping that one shot will end up in goal. Tunisia started to press more effectively during the second half, as substitute Firas Chaouat side netted one shot. As the game went on, Tunisia grew more desperate for their first goal, while Nigeria wanted another goal to put the game to rest. Samuel Chukwueze came close to scoring from a shot outside the six-yard box, and substitute Samuel Kalu almost scored a thrilling free-kick during the dying minutes of the game, but Tunisian goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia was able to save both shots. The game eventually ended 1-0 in Nigeria's favor, whose players went home with bronze medals, while Tunisia’s players will have to go back to their country emptyhanded.