Ea­gles soar while Foxes strug­gle to live up to the hype

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

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.


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