By John Essien
Nigeria continue their quest for a fourth continental title on Sunday when they take on the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in a Round of 16 clash of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
The three-time champions maintained a perfect win record heading into the knockout phase of the biennial showpiece. Thus, putting themselves in a commanding position in the tournament with nobody wanting to play against a team that had actually come into the competition in something of a state of disarray.
Statistically, Coach Austin Eguavoen’s men are expected to overcome a Tunisian side that qualified as best losers and third placed team in Group F.
Heading into the last 16, the Carthage Eagles had lost two of their group games against Mali and debutants Gambia, but recorded a 4-0 win against Mauritania – the biggest margin of victory in the competition so far.
Tunisia possess only a slim chance; putting the Super Eagles in a pole position to reach the last eight –where they would face winner of the tie between Burkina Faso and Gabon.
Form wise, the Panthers have been tipped to come out victorious against the Stallions who have had a rather slow start to the campaign.
Burkina Faso lost their opening match against Cameroon, but still qualified on four points, while the Gabonese have performed admirably to finish runners up in Group B despite being without Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
A look at both teams statistically, the Panthers without a shadow of doubt look more prepared for a quarter final berth.
Should the Eagles beat Gabon or Burkina Faso –whichever team makes it into the last eight ‐- we may be opportuned to see a repeat of the 2002 Nations Cup Semi-final clash between Nigeria and Senegal.
Of course, a star-studded Senegalese team is expected to defeat Cape Verde to set up a semi-final clash against the Eagles. But, the Teranga Lions have been a shadow of themselves since the start of the tournament.
Having initially entered the competition as favourites, it appears the tag has eluded them after a stuttering group campaign.
Aliou Cisse’s men have only registered a goal in their last three matches which was a last-gasp penalty against Zimbabwe in the opening fixture.
And while they remain the only team not to concede a goal, their attacking strength remain a source of concern even with the presence of their talismanic striker Sadio Mane, who is yet to translate his club form into the Senegalese team.