IKENWA NNABUOGOR wonders what may have gone wrong with ‘Cerezo’ Augustine Eguavoen after he completely surrendered to the technical and tactical superior Tunisia in a most disappointing 2021 AFCON ouster…
‘Cerezo’ Augustine Eguavoen clearly left the game plan he used to defeat Egypt in his hotel room and gleefully let his Tunisian counterpart in the driver’s seat in a tactical and technical battle that ultimately led to a painful 1-0 second round loss in Garoua Sunday night.
Worse still, Eguavoen’s men didn’t look high spirited and confident filing out for the ill-fated game to suggest that all may not have been well with the team ahead of the clash.
Feelers ahead of the game suggested there were distractions especially from the country’s football apex body, the NFF, which ‘Cerezo’ vehemently frowned at and demanded 100 percent concentration for his team ahead of the game.
Could that have been one of the reasons the Eagles capitulated to the superior technical and tactical approach by the Tunisians?
It could still be argued that the distractions may not have affected the team tactically and technically but then any team could hit the top with full concentration especially as the knock out stages loom large.
Many believed Eagles many have dismissed the Covid-9-hit Tunisia as a foregone conclusion judging by Eagles’ fiery force in the group stage and failed to prepare adequately for the crucial game.
Tunisia coach hatched a fool-proof match plan that condemned ‘Cerezo’ to watching helplessly from the technical area as his men ran into murky waters trying to unlock the watertight Tunisian defence and he could not provide solutions.
Part of the tactical savvy the Tunisian coach stormed the crucial game with was brutally crippling the Eagles’ wing play, cutting off the exciting Moses Simon on the left and Samuel Chukwueze on the right to ultimately blunt the Eagles attack.
Simon had a most difficult evening in Garoua as he had to entertain three mean adversaries each time balls were threaded to his path and so he got no space to make hay.
The FC Nantes pocket battleship had a game to forget as the supremely-fit Tunisian hatchetmen made sure he put no cross into their vital area for Taiwo Awoniyi and Kelechi Iheanacho to shoot at goal.
With the wings effectively clipped by the North Africans, Cerezo’s ideas going forward also took a walk, but the former Super Eagles defender had one last idea to beckon on to break the well prepared Carthage Eagles.
Part of re-jigged plans was to hit back at the North Africans in the midfield as things got a lot tougher with Youseff Msakani’s 25-yarder almost ending the game as a contest, but the worse was to happen.
Though the Everton star Alex Iwobi found his way back in the midfield from his improvised new wing role after he replaced Iheanacho, the former Arsenal ace chose an early return for an unplanned shower in the dressing room when he stamped on a Tunisian player.
The 47th minute Msakani’s stunner was the height of Tunisian technical and tactical superiority after which the North Africans defended with their last drop of blood.
Carthage Eagles chances at Super Eagles goal were not just rampant expectedly though – that was not the plan you draw up for your more illustrious opponents – as they defended their areas stoutly against a Super Eagles’ leveller and protected the lone goal as if they were in the World Cup final.
But what actually happened to Cerezo’s tactics and techniques that had made the seven-time champions Egypt look like upstarts?
Pressures to lift the AFCON title after a sweet 100 percent group stage record were normal and expected too, but could they have done Cerezo in when it mattered most?
The group stage victories were sweet, direct and convincing and expectations hit rooftop to run over Tunisia, to kill off possibly Burkina Faso in the quarterfinals and then romp to semi-final, but then reality hit them like thunderbolt that the Carthage Eagles were indeed worth taken very seriously.
The defeat as jolting as it was, is also a huge lesson learnt going forward for the bruised unsong AFCON champions especially in the Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifier play-offs against perennial rivals Ghana in late March.
Every game must be approached with utmost importance and seriousness.
Cerezo’s third Eagles coming will be remembered for bringing back wing play, mobility and superb team play.
He was surely on his way to greatness, but for a night in Northern Cameroon when he switched off on the right tactics.