After losing just two games in qualification Tunisia are all set for their 14th African Cup of Nations, which begins in Angola on the 10th January 2010.
The Carthage Eagles, currently ranked 53rd in the FIFA world rankings, go into the tournament looking to claim their second title in six years.
It was in 2004, when they hosted the tournament, that Tunisia claimed their first ever Cup of Nations title. The Carthage Eagles beat North African rivals Morocco 2-1 in the final with goals from Santos and Ziad Jaziri.
In the two tournaments since then Tunisia were knocked out of the competition at the quarter final stage. In 2006 they lost to Nigeria’s Super Eagles 6-5 on penalties following a 1-1 draw; and in 2008 they lost to the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon 3-2 after extra time.
They will be hoping that 2010 sees them go further in the competition but they will find it tough with all the strong squads in Africa.
In the second round of qualifying for the tournament Tunisia sailed through their group, finishing second in group nine and three points behind winners Burkina Faso. Tunisia won all their games against Burundi and the Seychelles but came unstuck against Burkina Faso in the home tie losing 2-1. As the third best runner-up Tunisia gained qualification to the final round of qualifying.
In the third round they were drawn in a group with Nigeria, Mozambique and Kenya. The top three would qualify for the finals in Angola with the top team qualify for the World Cup finals later in 2010.
After nine games Nigeria came out on top of the group with 12 points, with Tunisia just one point behind them. Tunisia were the third team to qualify for the Cup of Nations, securing their place in September 2009. The Carthage Eagles drew both games with Nigeria, beat Kenya twice, beat Mozambique at home but with first place in their sights they lost the final game away in Maputo to hand Nigeria top spot and a place in the World Cup finals.
Failure to reach the World Cup finals saw coach Humberto Coelho fired and replaced by Esperance coach Faouzi Benzarti for the Cup of Nations.
In November 2009 Benzarti will have been disappointed with the draw for the finals as his side were drawn into group D alongside Cameroon, Gabon and Zambia. Tunisia and Cameroon will be favourites to progress from the group although Gabon are an up & coming side in African football and will fancy their chances after pushing Cameroon all the way in qualification.
Tunisia will face Zambia first on 13th January. The two sides have met four times before with Tunisia coming out victorious on two occasions. The Tunisians will need to be wary of their captain Chris Katongo, the forward has bags of pace and a direct running style which will could cause the Carthage Eagles problems.
Their second game will see their third meeting with Gabon. Currently ranked 48th in the world rankings Gabon were the surprise package of qualifying, the Black Panthers pushed eventual group winners Cameroon all the way and it was only in the last game that Cameroon snatched top spot. Gabon will look to skilful Lille striker Pierre Aubameyang to fire them into the quarter finals for the first time since 1996.
The final game of the group will be against Cameroon who are currently ranked 11th in the FIFA rankings, making them the highest ranked African side in the world. The third favourites for the whole competition will be lead by Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto’o, and he will undoutably be the man to watch when the two sides meet on the 21st January.
Fans back in Tunisia will be hoping that the team successfully qualify from the group and progress to the end of the competition. In reality reaching the quarter finals and maybe even the semi finals will be the best that Tunisian fans can expect given the strength that teams like Ghana, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast have but in this competition anything can happen!
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