Tunisia struggled to make their dominance pay against Gabon in Lubango. The Eagles picked up their second draw of the tournament, which leaves them third in group D on two points.
Faouzi Benzarti made two changes to the side that drew with Zambia; Souheil Ben Radhia replaced fellow defender Khaled Souissi and striker Issam Jemaa came in for injured midfielder Oussam Darragi as the Tunisians lined up with a new attacking formation.
The Carthage Eagles saw more of the ball in the first 10 minutes as the Gabon side sat back waiting to hit Tunisia on the counter attack the same way they did against Cameroon. Despite Tunisia’s early dominance it was Gabon who had the first real chance of the game. Hull City striker Daniel Cousin crossed the ball into the near post for Pierre Aubameyang, however the Lille forward failed to control the ball and Tunisian goalkeeper Ayem Mathlouti smothered the ball at his feet.
Gabon came close again in the 11th minute from their first corner kick, unmarked Erwin Nguema met the cross but couldn’t direct his header goalwards. This was to be the theme of the match as Tunisia’s defensive frailties continued to be exposed from Gabonese set-pieces.
Tunisia created their first real chance in the 15th minute when Amine Chermiti pressurised the Gabonese defence, his hard work caused the defence to make a mistake and gift the ball to Jemaa. The Lens striker hit the ball from outside the area but swerved away from goal not troubling the Gabonese goalkeeper.
As the game continued defensive mistakes kept giving opportunities to each side, in the 18th minute more poor marking at another Gabon corner saw Eric Mouloungui header over the bar when it seemed easier to score.
Tunisia came back with another chance of their own; a poor ball out of midfield was seized upon by 19-year-old Youssef M’Skani. The left midfielder cut infield and attempted a long range effort but it was easily saved by Didier Ovono in the Gabon goal.
Another mistake in the Gabon defence saw Chermiti race towards goal, the striker bared down on goal but as he looked to go around Ovono he slipped and the chance was lost as the ball as his weak effort was blocked by a recovering defender.
Tunisia’s dominance began to waiver as the half went on and it was Gabon who had the final chance of the half through the impressive Mouloungui. A free kick on the right was crossed into the box but header over the bar by the Nice striker and the half ended goalless.
The Carthage Eagles started the second half well but could only create half chances which didn’t really test the goalkeeper. However it was Gabon who created the first real chance of the second half, a speculative free kick caught Mathlouti off guard but the goalkeeper recovered well to tip the shot over the bar. From the resulting corner it was Mouloungui who again had a chance, this time his shot was well blocked by the Tunisian defence before the danger was cleared.
Tunisia did create a clear-cut chance in the 60th minute through Yassine Mikari, the defender struck his free-kick well but Ovono in the Gabon goal tipped it wide. 17 minutes later Jemaa had his second opportunity to open the deadlock, talented youngster Zouheir Dhaouadi broke through the Gabon defence but Jemaa squandered the opportunity from his pass.
The Eagles’ final opportunity of the match would have come in the 81st minute had it not been for the referee’s assistants flag. Substitute Ahmed Akaachi met a cross in the penalty area, his powerful header beat the goalkeeper but crashed into the crossbar but it was from an offside position so wouldn’t have counted anyway.
In injury time Gabon created two opportunities but Mouloungui and Roguy Meye couldn’t keep their efforts on target and the game was brought to a disappointing close.
While the draw is not a bad result it leaves Tunisia with a big ask in their final game. They must beat pre-tournament favourites Cameroon on Thursday to ensure qualification to the quarter-finals.
Striker Issam Jemaa was disappointed with the result but remained optimistic despite the challenge ahead of them.
“We spared no effort to win” the striker said after the match.
“But the last touch for scoring was not there.
“But there’s still another game and hope remains.”
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