Games for third place rarely seem a thrill for the teams involved, although younger squad members on both sides will be hoping for a chance to shine in Cairo, while their more match-worn teammates will presumably wish they were on the next flight home.
On the face of it, Tunisia are 20 places above Nigeria in the FIFA world rankings, sitting 25th, and had a slightly less agonising form of AFCON heartbreak in that they did not lose to the last kick of the game.
Nigeria, though, are the slenderest of favourites for a match in which form is likely to depart from the nearest window as both sides look to gain a semblance of closure from sappingly cruel exits.
If Tunisia’s final four match was breathless, Nigeria’s tumultuous clash with Algeria was every bit as action-packed, as well as offering a more sudden and spectacular conclusion.
As the 94th minute ticked past in Cairo, few could have foreseen even a player of Riyad Mahrez‘s class producing the masterful free-kick that sent the Manchester City winger’s side into the final.
That proved the last action of the game and an unforgiving end to a campaign in which they have frequently entertained, knocking out reigning champions Cameroon 3-2 before seeing off an upwardly mobile South Africa 2-1.
Algeria have been arguably the best team in the tournament this year, but Nigeria will feel frustrated not to have held on to the parity provided by Odion Ighalo‘s 72nd-minute penalty, awarded for handball following a lengthy VAR check.
That said, coach Gernot Rohr will have been vexed by the surprising lack of threat and creativity manifested by Nigeria for much of the semi-final leading up to their penalty.
Nigeria’s opponents dominated much of the encounter and hit the woodwork shortly before scoring the winner, outplaying the Super Eagles when many had thought their superior experience in the latter stages of the tournament could count for more.
Mahrez haunted them early on to force the opener, outfoxing his markers before seeing his cross diverted into the Nigeria net via the midriff of defender William Troost-Ekong, who scored their late quarter-final winner against South Africa.
Nigeria may feel they have a point to prove in the settler for bronze after an underwhelming semi-final showing that resulted in their second loss of the tournament, following up a shock group stage setback when they slumped to a 2-0 defeat against Madagascar.
They have not won by more than a single goal in any of their matches and, having kept four straight clean sheets in the build-up to that loss to Madagascar, have now conceded in four of their last five games.
Rohr was in pragmatic mood following the end of their bid to become champions, praising a squad that was the youngest at the 2018 World Cup and admitting that their tactical and technical quality will improve with age.