Eagles soar while Foxes struggle to live up to the hype
THE CURSE that tormented Ivory Coast for over a decade, with a star-studded team and no African success, seems to have been passed on to Algeria. The Elephants exorcised their demons two years ago by lifting the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Equatorial Guinea as a number of their golden generation were on their final legs.
The Desert Foxes’ golden generation look to be on their way out of the Afcon without living up to the expectations that had them billed as one of the tournament favourites. A lucky draw with Zimbabwe and last night’s loss to rivals Tunisia in Franceville has put Algeria in an awkward position.
This highlyanticipated North African derby didn’t disappoint, producing a tense 90 minutes with a number of emotional moments that tested referee Bernard Camille. The official from the Seychelles was firm but didn’t take the spotlight. It was the goalkeepers who did, showing their class to ensure that this match goes to half-time goalless. The Tunisian captain, Aymen Mathlouthi, and Algeria’s Malek Asselah had to be alert because of the attacking threat these two countries possess. Mathlouthi worked overtime, from tipping Yacine Brahimi’s goalbound free-kick to stopping Nabil Bentaleb’s free header.
A win over their rivals to kick-start the tournament they began on an underwhelming note was good motivation for these two teams. The Desert Foxes came into this game after stealing a point from Zimbabwe in a 2-2 draw while the Carthage Eagles were still reeling from a 2-0 loss to Senegal. Tunisia took the lead through Algeria’s Ramy Bensebaini. The defender had the misfortune of directing Youssef Msakni’s cross, after Ferjani Sassi had created space for Msakni with a clever chip, into his own net.
While centre-back Bensebaini was still trying to pick up his head, left-back Faouzi Ghoulam had his own howler. After trying to play a tame back pass with his header, Ghoulam brought down Wahbi Khazri inside the box. Sliti Naim stepped up and gave the Tunisian a two-goal cushion. The Algerians had not dropped their heads after Bensebaini’s own goal. They huddled together and pushed each other to go on. But the second goal deflated their spirits.
The Algerians now have to beat Senegal and hope that results go their way in Tunisia’s clash with Zimbabwe in Group B’s last round of matches.
Tunisia’s only worry from last night was seeing captain Mathlouthi limping off the pitch in a tournament that has had some big names, Jonathan Pitroipa, Knowledge Musona and Baba AbdulRahman, getting injured.
Without their solid goalkeeper, Tunisia conceded a late goal through the boot of Sofiane Hanni.