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Nigeria neutralized as Tunisia shock Super Eagles in Garoua

Youssef Msakni’s 15th international goal made all the difference for Tunisia as the Carthage Eagles stymied a high-flying Nigerian attack on their way to a 1-0 Round of 16 victory at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. Sunday’s result means Tunisia will play Burkina Faso in the quarterfinals while Nigerian supporters are left to wonder what went wrong for a team that looked excellent in the group stage.

Tunisia snuck into the knockout stages despite losing twice and playing football that had their own fans and media demanding more. However, the Carthage Eagles’ pragmatic approach was the right one against a Nigerian side that is unafraid to throw numbers forward. The first half was a dry affair with Msakni and Nigeria midfielder Joe Aribo having shots blocked in the opening fifteen minutes to mark the closest either team came to breaking the deadlock.

The underdogs from Tunisia had done excellently to turn the match into a sleepy encounter, but snapped into action early in the second half to stun the complacent Super Eagles. Msakni collected the ball towards midfield and embarked on a dribbling run, faking his way past a retreating Wilfried Ndidi to give himself space to launch a shot. The Tunisian captain’s effort skipped off the turf in front of Nigeria goalkeeper Maduka Okoye and brushed off his arm and into the net for a stunning opener.

Nigeria manager Augustine Eguavoen reacted by surprisingly bringing off star forward Kelechi Iheanacho as well as Taiyo Awoniyi to bring on Alex Iwobi and Peter Olayinka in the 60th minute, but Iwobi’s stay would be very short. A few minutes after coming in, Iwobi went in for a midfield challenge with Msakni and caught the Tunisian player’s ankle with his studs up. An initial yellow card, the Video Assistant Referee intervened and the card was changed to red, putting Nigeria a player down.

Despite the numerical disadvantage Nigeria were more threatening than in the first half, with substitute forward Umar Sadiq bringing plenty when he came on in the 75th minute. However, it was to be a final stretch of much frustration for Nigerian supporters with Tunisia bunkering successfully. Ndidi and Simon had chances from outside the penalty area but lacked quality on their finishes. Nigeria’s last gasp came when Sadiq got behind the defense in stoppage time but could only drag his shot wide.

Video of Msakni’s winning goal is below.


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