It has been three days since the Super Eagles fell to a 0-1 loss at the hands of current African champions, Desert Foxes of Algeria, in a friendly match, and today Nigeria will again face another tricky tie, this time, against Tunisia in Austria.
The Super Eagles and Tunisia will lock horns at the Jacques Lemans Arena in the Austrian city of St. Veit an der Glan. This is coming about 14 months after the Gernot Rohr-led Eagles defeated the Carthage Eagles in their bronze medal match at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo. The event was the Egypt 2019 African Cup of Nations.
NFF officials confirmed yesterday that a fresh round of COVID-19 tests was conducted on Eagles players and coaches yesterday. On Friday, the entire Nigerian contingent of players and officials returned COVID-19 negative results after tests conducted on Thursday, ahead of the clash with African champions, Algeria.
Friday’s match against Algeria saw Ramy Bensebaini reacting fastest to the ball in the box from a corner kick to poke the ball behind goalkeeper Maduka Okoye.
Many Nigerian fans went home in disappointment, as the Super Eagles failed to equalise the early minute goal scored in the sixth minute of the match.
But Head Coach Rohr and the players say they have put the disappointment of losing a second a second match to Algeria behind them. He has challenged the squad turn up and show vibrancy, especially in attack against the 2004 African champions in today’s match.
“We definitely must put up greater effort against the Tunisians. It is an opportunity for some of the players to rise up to the occasion, stake a claim. They are ready to go and I believe we will see a much better game on Tuesday (today).”
Nigeria capped four new players against Algeria, with midfield dependable Wilfred Ndidi, Joseph Ayodele-Aribo and Oghenekaro Etebo, as well as forward Victor Osimhen unavailable.
In their absence, Rohr had to start first-cap Frank Onyeka alongside Alex Iwobi and defender Oluwasemilogo Ajayi in midfield, with Paul Onuachu as the lone striker.
In a match that also saw wing back Zaidu Sanusi, centre-back Kevin Akpoguna and midfielder Samson Tijani also earning their first senior caps, the Eagles huffed and puffed and strove hard to find cohesion and some sort of solidity, but failed to match the mentality and organisation of the Fennecs.
Today, the three-time African champions must be at their best against a motivated Carthage Eagles, who thumped Sudan 3-0 in Tunis on Friday.
All 24 players in camp were involved in yesterday evening’s training session, and are available for selection. Goalkeepers Dele Alampasu and Matthew Yakubu, defenders Kenneth Omeruo, Chidozie Awaziem, Olaoluwa Aina and Jamilu Collins and forwards Cyril Dessers and Chidera Ejuke were not part of the run-out with Algeria and could be considered for action this night.
Tunisia have not beaten Nigeria in a competitive game since the 2004 AFCON that they hosted, when they edged the Super Eagles in a penalty shoot-out after both teams tied 1-1 in regulation and extra time at the Stade Olympique in Rades, outside Tunis.
Matches between Nigeria and Tunisia have always been supercharged, the 2004 encounter no less so. After Jay Jay Okocha gave Nigeria the lead from the spot, Tunisia restored parity with only eight minutes left, Khaled Badra also poking in from the spot. Osaze Odemwingie missed during the shoot-out and the Eagles had to be content with the bronze medal after beating Mali. Tunisia went on to defeat Morocco in the final for their only continental title so far.