With Friday’s final pairing up Senegal and Algeria, the penultimate game of the African Cup of Nations kicks off this evening between beaten semi-finalists Tunisia and Nigeria. The Super Eagles are the owners of one of AFCON’s more dubious honours, having won the bronze medal match seven times. They’d much sooner be facing Sadio Mane and co. on Friday evening than here, competing for an eighth bronze, but Riyad Mahrez’s stunning free-kick in the fifth minute of time added on saw them fall at the semi-final stage again, so here we are.
For Tunisia, this is about where they would have expected to end up, and a win in this match would represent a decent showing for the overall tournament – especially when you bear in mind that tournament favourites Egypt fell out in the last 16. Their own semi-final loss was traumatic in itself – an own-goal in extra time ending their hopes of becoming African champions after they had taken the excellent Senegal side to the brink of elimination. For both these sides, then, this match is as much about picking themselves up and going one more time, possibly ending the competition with something to smile about.
Bucking the play-off trend – a low-scoring game in prospect?
Although there are gifted individual attackers in the Nigerian squad, the team as a whole is not renowned for being productive in the opposition’s penalty area, and they made their way to the last four in no small part because their defence is possibly the best in Africa. Tunisia, for their part, won none of their first four games of the competition across 90 minutes; three draws got them out of their group, and then a penalty shoot-out saw them past Ghana in the second round. Only when they came up against unfancied Madagascar in the quarter-finals did Alain Giresse’s side score more than once, winning 3-0.
The third-place play-off of any tournament is often seen as a bit of a glorified friendly, without any of the pressure of a final – because no side that has just played a semi-final is particularly bothered about whether they’re third or fourth. However, the DNA of these sides is built around cautious, defensively structured football. Therefore, the 888 odds of ⅚ for “No” on Both Teams To Score may well be the one to go for here. Sure, the sides may feel that the pressure is off them now, but both will also be dealing with the comedown from narrowly missing out on a final.
Chance for a reshuffle for both sides
Having not made the final, it’s generally considered standard for teams in a third-place match to give playing time to those members of their squad who haven’t accumulated many minutes on the way. There’s every reason to expect that both these sides will keep that tradition going, which may well mean stalwarts like Wilfried Ndidi of Nigeria and Wahbi Khazri of Tunisia drop out of the starting XIs for this match. With no trophy at stake anymore, Nigeria may also leave Odion Ighalo, their scorer against Nigeria, in reserve after a tiring six matches.
This should mean a place in the starting line-up for Paul Onuachu, who plays his club football in Denmark with Midtjylland. That club is known as a launch-pad for young players to go on to bigger things, and Onuachu is known to have attracted the attention of FC Porto. A solid showing from the start here could allow him to put himself in the shop window, and with NetBet pricing him at 5/1 to score the first goal here, he could be worth a punt as he looks to use some of the pent-up energy he’ll have accumulated while watching Ighalo score most of his country’s goals at this competition.
Super Eagles to take consolation again
Winning a third-place match is the ultimate mixed blessing in football; it’s better than coming fourth, but any side that has made the semi-finals wants better than to win this consolation prize. Nonetheless, Nigeria’s record in these games shows that even when they’re dealing with the disappointment of missing the final by such a narrow margin, they can still put together a performance. They also have a considerably deeper squad than the Carthage Eagles, and that should allow them to take the honours here.
With Betway, you can back the Super Eagles to end the tournament as third-place winners at 7/10, which stands whether they win in 90 minutes, after extra-time or even on penalties. However, you can get better odds if you think they’ll win the game in normal time, with the same bookmakers offering 13/10 on that eventuality. Given their solid defence, and the greater attacking quality in their side, we’d lean towards them being able to bag the goal they need in the 90 minutes and defend any lead they can get. A consolation prize it may be, but Nigeria will certainly take it.