World: Africa Cup of Nations
0 - 1
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A. Iwobi (66)
Y. Msakni (47)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

AFCON updates: Awonyi and Nigeria eliminated, Tapsoba and Skhiri advance

Bayer 04 Leverkusen central defender Edmond Tapsoba and Burkina Faso are headed for the AFCON quarterfinals after prevailing in a wild penalty shootout that went nine rounds with Gabon.

In a shock result, the hitherto undefeated Super Eagles of Nigeria are headed home after being Eliminated by Tunisia.

Nigerian striker Taiwo Awoniyi of Union Berlin sees his tournament dream ended while Tunisian midfielder Ellyes Skhiri of 1. FC Köln progresses deeper into the tournament. 
Entering the first elimination round of AFCON 2021, hopes were flying high for "Super Eagles" of Nigeria. The 2013 continental champions cruised through the group stage with three victories. Their reward for topping their group was to face one of the competition's third-placed teams. As it turned out the bracket paired them with the Tunisian "Eagles of Carthage", who dropped their opening group stage match against Mali and also lost to Gambia on the third group stage matchday.

The pairing nevertheless remained a tough one for Nigeria.  Mondher Kebaier's Tunisians were still considered by many to be among the tournament favorites despite their early stumbles. On paper, the sides were much more evenly matched that the seeding might have suggested. The Nigerians, led by the triplicate attacking threat of Kelechi Iheanacho, Samuel Chukwueze, and Union Berlin's Taiwo Awoniyi still retained favorite status of many.

Awoniyi actually began the round-of-16 fixture spearheading Nigerian interim trainer Augustine Eguavoen's 4-2-3-1. Iheanacho worked behind the Köpenick attacker as the team. Iheanacho's Leicester City teammate Wilfred N'didi and Glasgow Rangers' Joe Aribo worked behind him in a double-six setup. Just as he did in the preceding three fixtures, 1. FC Köln midfielder Ellyes Skhiri anchored the Tunisian 4-3-3 on the middle axis.

The two teams largely neutralized one another during a slow first half with few clear cut chances. Awoniyi hardly saw any of the ball at all and didn't come close to getting an effort on target. Skhiri, meanwhile, was kept busy in the midfield during a very intense slog of possession changes. The cathedral city man managed one shot that was well off target.

Two minutes after the restart, Tunisia had the lead thanks to their veteran striker Youssef Msakni. The 31-year-old fired a very worthy effort on goal, but Nigerian keeper Maduka Okoye will have wished that he handled his positioning better. The Düsseldorf native, who earns his footballing living at Sparta Rotterdam, had hitherto had a fine tournament.

After conceding just once in the opening two matches, Eaguavoen opted to rest Okoye for the final group stage match. There might have been a certain degree of rust at play as Okoye let the effort bounce in off his leg.

Awoniyi was subbed off at the hour mark as part of a tactical change. Six minutes later, the Super Eagles found themselves shorthanded as well. Everton winger Alex Iwobi received a straight red after video review confirmed his challenge on Msakni to be egregious.

There were some late chances to equalize, but neither N'didi nor late sub Umar Sadiq could make the most of decent shooting positions. Skhiri went the full 90 minutes, finishing as an active part of the Carthaginian's midfield holding pattern.

In other Bundesliga-related AFCON news, Edmond Tapsoba went the full 120 minutes and then some in Burkina Faso's wild penalty shootout victory against Gabon. The Leverkusen defender is surely exhausted after a grueling match that featured 14 bookings.

The Burkina Stallions thought they had a 1-0 victory secured against a Gabonese side reduced to ten-men, but an own-goal from Adama Guria at 90+1 sent the match into extra time. As if that didn't turn send the rollercoaster of emotions into overdrive, the ensuing penalty shootout went nine (!!) rounds.

Bundesligist Tapsoba did his part by converting his penalty in the third round of the shootout. When Tapsoba's teammate Ismahila Ouédraogo finally secured Burkina Faso's passage to the next round with the 18th spot-kick of the night, many of the Burkinabé players were too tired to even celebrate.

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