It will be a clash of Eagles in Garoua on Sunday as Nigeria face Tunisia in the second round of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon. The Super Eagles and the Carthage Eagles are perennial rivals who have faced each other 20 times, with each team holding six wins each while the remaining eight fixtures ended in draws.
The figures tell another story if stripped down to games between the two teams at previous AFCONs. Nigeria has a better head-to-head advantage over the North Africans at the continental tourney.
Here are the five memorable AFCON matches between Nigeria and Tunisia.
The first time the two nations met at AFCON was in the bronze medal match of Ghana 1978. From the Nigerian perspective, the fixture was a chance to draw revenge for the disappointment that the North Africans had dealt them just a few months prior. Tunisia had pipped Nigeria and Egypt to Africa’s sole ticket at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. The nation was still healing from the heartache of the disastrous pictures of a jittery Godwin Ediye heading the ball into his own net at the National Stadium in Surulere. That painful moment hindered Nigeria’s dream of making a World Cup debut that summer.
So when a defeat to Uganda in the semi-final of the AFCON set up a third-place match against the Carthage Eagles, Nigerians sought vengeance. However, in the 19th minute, the Tunisians raced to a shocking lead as a moustached Muhammed Akid beat Emmanuel Okala in goal. The Green Eagles struggled to find a response until the late minutes of the first half when Baba Otu roared Nigeria back into the game with a much-needed goal. But the Tunisians faulted the officiating of Togo’s Théophile Lawson-Hétchéli, the centre referee, and walked off the pitch in protest. They refused to re-emerge, and Nigeria was awarded a 2-0 win while Tunisia was banned from the tournament’s next edition.
Kanu’s hat trick of assist in 2000
Just a few minutes after Issa Hayatou, then CAF president, and Sepp Blatter, then FIFA president, handed Nwankwo Kanu the gilded plaque for being the best African footballer of 1999, he went ahead to produce another master class performance that reinforced the decision that indeed he was the best.
Nigeria was hosting the AFCON for the first time in 20 years. AFCON 2000 – co-hosted with Ghana – was believed by many to be the appropriate stage for the band of Nigeria’s “golden generation” of players to show the continent what made them special. And with the National Stadium in Surulere packed to the floodlight by football-crazed Nigerians, the Eagles produced a memorable performance against Tunisia in their first group game.
The onslaught started in the 27th minute. Kanu drew four Tunisian defenders to himself in the middle of the pack with his languid brilliance of holdup play. His antic disrupted the Tunisians’ defensive shape, leaving a sprinting Jay-Jay Okocha free down the right-wing. Kanu funnelled a pass through the crevices of the defence and sent Okocha one-on-one with Chokri El Ouaer. A crew cut-wearing Okocha smashed the ball hard and low past Chokri to give Nigeria the lead.
Although Adel Sellimi equalised for Tunisia with a 48th-minute header that beat Ike Shorunmu at the top corner, Nigeria crawled ahead a few minutes later. A slick one-two exchange between Kanu and Okocha set the latter up for a chance at the edge of the Tunisian box. Okocha cracked a clean right-footed skidding shot which went in through the legs of a shocked Chokri.
Kanu again produced the third goal for Nigeria, with a glorious flick into the path of Victor Ikpeba, who slammed the ball home past Chokri. It was four in no time, and Ikpeba again connected with Benedict Akwuegbu’s cross at the near post. Although the Tunisians pulled one back, the game ended 4-2, with Nigeria finishing top of the group and making it to the final.
The hurt of 2004
The Super Eagles were in fine form when they met Tunisia in the semi-final of the 2004 AFCON. Nigeria had booked a place among the final four after a scintillating comeback victory against Cameroon in the quarter-final. And Tunisia, the host, was propelled by the buzz of the home fans that flooded every match venue.
The match began with a slow drag as both sides were reluctant to punish each other, and the first goal didn’t come until deep into the second half. In the 65th minute, Kanu was heckled down in the Tunisian goal area by Karim Haggui, and an in-form Okocha sent Ali Boumnijel the wrong way from the resulting penalty. The Carthage Eagles did get a penalty of their own a few minutes later after Seyi Olofinjana brought down Ziad Jaziri in the Nigerian goal area, and Khaled Badra dispatched the spot-kick the other way from the direction of Vincent Enyeama’s leap.
The game spiralled into a penalty shootout with no further goal scored throughout the remainder of regular time and extra time. Badra scored the first for Tunisia. John Utaka steeled his nerves to respond for Nigeria. Dos Santos’s kick beat Enyeama; then, a young Osaze Odemwingie had his effort clawed away by Boumnijel. Other kickers scored theirs, and Tunisia scored a 5-3 victory on penalties to advance into the final. Nigeria would finish third in the competition.
The revenge of 2006
Enyeama was the hero two years later when the two teams met at AFCON once again. The former Enyimba goalkeeper stopped four penalties – including one during the game – to send Nigeria on the way to the semi-final of the 2006 tournament in Egypt.
Super Eagles scored an early goal in the sixth minute courtesy of a teenage Obinna Nsofor, but the Tunisians equalised through Karim Haggui’s header just after the halftime break. In between, Enyeama saved Jose Clayton’s penalty to keep Nigeria in the game.
The game dragged into a penalty shootout, and it appeared that the bogeyman would rear its head for Nigeria once again as Joseph Yobo and Yusuf Ayila missed their kicks in quick succession. Enyeama had to save two Tunisian spot kicks to swing the shootout back into balance. The goalkeeper then showed another great alertness to stop Bouazizi’s penalty and send Nigeria into the final four.
Bronze match in 2019
In a largely uneventful game, Odion Ighalo’s third minute goal after the Tunisian defence had fluffed a simple cross from Jamilu Collins was enough to win Nigeria its eighth bronze medal at AFCON.