Madagascar vs Tunisia (Al Salam Stadium, 20:00 CAT, July 11)
The quarter-finals of the 32nd edition of the AFCON continues today with 2004 champions Tunisia playing against the competition’s surprise package Madagascar at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo for a place in the semi-final.
Tunisia are in their 19th AFCON appearance and their fourteenth consecutive appearance in the tournament. They won in 2004 when they hosted the tournament. They face Madagascar who have surprised all and sundry to top their group ahead of Nigeria, beating the Super Eagles (three time winners) and qualifying for the last eight after beating 1968 and 1974 winners the DRC at the round of 16 in their maiden AFCON appearance.
Tunisia are yet to impress in this tournament though they are in the last eight. They surprised Ghana in the round of 16 after drawing their group stage games. Some top draw coaching from their French coach Alain Giress was key to that win. He brought out goalkeeper Mouez Hassen and threw in penalties expert Farouk Ben Moustapha who was the hero of the shootouts against Ghana for the Carthage Eagles.
Tunisia played better in this game than in their previous three and could have beaten Ghana in regular time if not of that unfortunate late own-goal from their 29 year old Etoile Sportive du Sahel defender Rami Bedoui. Their 26 year old Dijon midfielder Niam Sliti recognizes the fact that they played better against Ghana but there is still room for improvement.
“I think we reacted against Ghana after the poor group stage matches we played, I knew we are going to bounce back,” Sliti told reporters.
“We have to continue like that. We must not be carried away by this victory. It was difficult. We need to fix our mistakes, like what happened when we were leading Ghana 1-0.
“We were playing too much at the back. You must not do that. We will continue with our preparation. There is a huge game ahead. By God’s grace it shall be fine, he added”
51 year old formers defender Nicolas Dupuis is already a hero in Antananarivo after leading the Berea to their first ever AFCON appearance, a first ever AFCON win when they beat Burundi in their second AFCON game and they will be playing their first ever AFCON quarter-finals today after seeing off the DRC in the round of 16.
The Frenchman was appointed coach in 2016 and since then he has worked magic with the national team of Madagascar just like he did with French amateur club AS Yzeure in 2015 when he led them to an unbelievable run in the French cup.
Whatever happens in this game against Tunisia today this group of players have written their names with bold ink in Malagasy football folklore.
Between then and a place in the semi-finals are Tunisia.
“When we came here at the beginning of the tournament, nobody took us seriously but we believed in ourselves,” said Madagascar midfielder Anicet Abel.
“Of course, they under-estimated us and I understand them. Madagascar is not famous in football, I think Madagascar is only famous for the movie.”
Their exploits in this tournament have not gone unnoticed. President Andry Rajoelina chartered a plane to take himself and supporters to the match against DR Congo in the round of 16, there is no doubt he will be in the stands again to cheer them to victory against Tunisia.
Madagascar are the first team to reach the quarter-finals of the AFCON in their first participation since the Cape Verde Islands in 2013.
Tunisia will play their 10th AFCON quarter-final. They have failed to advance in their past five appearances at this stage.
Tunisia are favourites to win this game but AFCON debutants Madagascar who have already beaten Burundi, Nigeria and the DRC in this tournament should not be taken lightly.
Players to Watch
Ibrahim Samuel Amada (Madagascar)
Position: Midfielder Club: MC Alger Age: 29
He scored a wonderful goal against the DR Congo in the previous round, Ibrahim Amada will be hoping for a repeat against Tunisia cause another huge upset. The hard working midfielder has been outstanding in breaking the play of the opponents and joining in the attack with a goal to his name already.
Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia)
Position: Forward Club: Saint Etienne Age: 28
Tunisia’s front line has been misfiring in this tournament with Youssef Msakni and Niam Sliti playing far below their potentials. Wahbi Khazri has scored two of Tunisia’s last four goals in the Africa Cup of Nations and he is a dead-ball specialist. He scored a superb free-kick against Mali. He will be Tunisia’s man to watch in this game.