AFCON 2021: The Eagles that Refuse to Fly

Kenny Folarin, Abuja

The sudden defeat of the Super Eagles by Tunisia despite having nine point in the African Cup of Nations Tournament did not just disappoint Nigerians but has generated mix reactions across the country and in the diaspora leaving many in awe despite having a fantastic start defeating Egypt and Guinea Bussiau.

The defeat gave hope for Nigerians and her government enthusiasm to believe that the Eagles would win the AFCON tournament.

The government and notable Nigerians out of eagerness, excitement and motivation for them promised cash reward if they win.

Earlier on Sunday morning before the match against Tunisia began, President Muhammadu Buhari charged the Super Eagles to fly in their match against Tunisia the President spoke with Coach Augustine Eguavoen, , Captain Ahmed Musa , Amaju Pinnick, President of Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), and Nigerian Ambassador to Cameroon, Abayomi Olonisakin.

Mr Buhari said: “You’ve been doing Nigeria proud. You’ve been winning. Please keep on winning. The Federal Government is supporting you, and I say thank you to all the technical crew and the players.. Please keep doing the country proud.”

Unfortunately, the Super Eagles could not get the chance to win their fourth title, just yet, after a 47th minute Youssef Msakni strike sent them out of the tournament.

A cagey first half had it highlights the first of which arrived when Wilfred Ndidi flashed an overhead kick wide as early as the second minute as Nigeria looked to open the scoring.

The first real chance of the evening fell to the Tunisians, but Wilfred Ndidi came to the rescue with a goal-line clearance.

Nigeria responded almost instantly through Joe Aribo, but the Rangers man, after receiving a decent ball from Moses Simon, saw his shot blocked at the last second.

The Carthage Eagles were rattled and could have conceded just past the quarter of the hour, but Taiwo Awoniyi could not get his head to make contact with a side-footed Samuel Chukwueze cross.

The Villarreal winger and Aina combined well on the right flank before the Chelsea academy product sent a low cross into the box which arrived behind Awoniyi.

The rest of the half fizzled out without much Falmouth action as both teams were content keeping the ball away from their area as much as possible.

Moments into the second half, Tunisia broke the deadlock after a fierce Youssef Msakni drive left Okoye with egg on his face.

It was the first time the Augustine Eguavoen-led side would concede the first goal at the Afcon in Cameroon.

The Super Eagles reacted well, raising the tempo, but the ball did not fall kindly to any of Awoniyi or Iheanacho as they pressed for an equaliser.

The evening turned for the worst for Nigeria when the Eagles were reduced to ten men. Alex Iwobi, minutes after coming off the bench, was shown a straight red card for a rash stamp.

Still, Simon should have equalised for Nigeria after a Peter Olayinka cross found him in the box. But goalkeeper Ben Said kept out the Nantes man’s shot.

Okoye saved a fierce Tunisian drive as the North Africans exploited the spaces left behind by the attacking Nigerians.

The Super Eagles were relentless, though, and Simon flashed a free-kick just wide after good work from Umar Sadiq.

Ndidi sent another shot wide when well-placed and Sadiq missed another sitter late on as the crucial equaliser eluded the Super Eagles.

Nigeria’s 100% record in Cameroon ends on a sad note. The Super Eagles leave Cameroon with Tunisia processing to face Burkina Faso in the quarterfinals.

Meanwhile many questions comes to mind on whose fault it is for making the eagles not to fly, the formation by Austin Eguaveon, the eagerness to receive the reward promised or the nature of the tournament characterized by its hype, excitement and disappointment where even the giants are fallen.

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