AFCON: Nigeria, Tunisia battle for third-place

Nigeria and Tunisia will battle it out for the third-place playoffs of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday (today).

The game, which kicks off at the Al-Salam Stadium in Cairo from 8pm, is a first of two West versus North duel at the ongoing 2019 AFCON in Egypt.

An open and engaging 2019 AFCON drew close to its conclusion on Sunday night, with two final teams Senegal and Algeria left standing ahead of Wednesday’s losers’ final clash.

Nigeria were beaten 2-1 courtesy of a last minute Riyad Mahrez free-kick while Senegal edged Tunisia 1-0 in extra time on Sunday.

There are reasons for optimism for Nigeria and Tunisia ahead of this clash, both of whom have demonstrated their qualities and their limitations in the tournament till date.

On the face of it, Tunisia are 20 places above Nigeria in the FIFA world rankings, sitting 25th, and had a slightly less agonising form of AFCON heartbreak in that they did not lose to the last kick of the game.

In terms of their head-to-head record, Tunisia have had marginally the better of the 17 matches they have played against Nigeria, with six wins compared to their rivals’ five.

The all-time figures would be dead level had Tunisia not won a friendly 5-0 in Tunis in 1984.

Tunisia went 2-0 up inside 16 minutes when they met 19 years ago, only for Nigeria to emerge 4-2 winners in Lagos, including a brace from former Paris Saint-Germain and Bolton Wanderers favourite Jay-Jay Okocha.

Since then, the teams have traded penalty shootout triumphs after 1-1 draws – Tunisia winning 5-3 in the AFCON 2004 semi-finals, Nigeria 6-5 in the 2006 quarter-finals.

Almost 10 years ago, their last meetings produced no goals in Tunis and a 2-2 draw in Abuja as part of a qualifying campaign that saw Nigeria reach the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Tunisia’s win more than 15 years ago is their sole AFCON victory in this fixture. Nigeria have won three of the six matches between these teams in the tournament, beginning with a 2-1 win in November 1961.

There was an extraordinary conclusion when these two last met to decide third place.

With the score level at 1-1, Tunisia walked off the pitch after 42 minutes in Accra in March 1978, leading officials to award Nigeria a 2-0 win and ban their opponents from the next tournament.

The African continent eagerly waits in anticipation to see who wins the first of a West versus North duel in the 2019 AFCON at the Al-Salam Stadium in Cairo on Wednesday.