Tunisia steal the show
Tunisia claimed the second edition of the CAF African Nations Championship in Sudan at the weekend, adding to the celebratory atmosphere in the country after their recent political upheaval. Despite the league not operating since the New Year, the strength of Tunisia's domestic football was all too evident in their success at the 16-team tournament designed for home-based players only.
They handed Angola an emphatic 3-0 beating in the final in Khartoum, having overcome Algeria in the semi-final and the defending champions and favourites Congo DR in the last eight of the competition. The tournament provides an opportunity to gain international exposure for players still based in their own countries, and it has been a revelation in terms of the strengths of the respective leagues around the continent.
Long the home of one of Africa's strongest leagues, Tunisia have had a steady rate of success in continental club competition and their relative power was there for all to see as the North African nation won their first piece of silverware since winning the CAF Africa Cup of Nations at home in 2004. “This Tunisian team have players of a high quality who are capable of going very far. We also have a mental strength and in this competition we really wanted to win for the Tunisian people,” said coach Sami Trabelsi.
Second-half strikes from Mejdi Traoui, Zouhaier Dhaouadi and Oussama Darragi won the gold medals for Tunisia. Angola, who got a 92nd-minute goal to draw 1-1 with the Tunisians in the group stage, started well but were unable to break down the opposing defence. They were then overrun after the break as Traoui opened the scoring two minutes into the second half and then laid on a through pass to Dhaouadi for the second goal in the 74th minute. Five minutes later, substitute Darragi added the third goal.
Angola appointed new coach Lito Vidigal to his post just weeks before the start of the tournament in Sudan, and he spent time in Brazil preparing the team, who were in their league's off-season and lacking the necessary match practice. His primary task is ensuring Angola qualify for the next Cup of Nations, but the tournament in Sudan was a good chance to get to know the local-based element of his squad, who make up the majority of the selection. Angola secured progress to the knockout rounds in their final group game with their only win of the tournament, against Rwanda. They then edged Cameroon and hosts Sudan on penalties to reach the final. “I think reaching the final counts as an achievement,” said Lito after the tournament. “It is a good starting point for the work I intend to do with this team.”
Zouhaier Dhaouadi of Club Africain and Tunisia was named as the tournament’s best player, running his side from midfield and proving decisive in the key matches along the way to the title. The promising 23-year-old, who comes from Kairouan in the centre of Tunisia, went to the last Cup of Nations after battling his way back from injury and is now a national team regular.
Adel Chedli was a member of Tunisia’s full international side when they won the 2004 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Now he has become the first player to also pick up a winners’ medal in the event known as the CHAN. At the age of 34, the France-born Chedli is concluding his career at Etoile Sahel, having started his journey at St Etienne and played also in Ligue 1 for Sochaux and Istres and in the Bundesliga briefly at FC Nuremburg.
South Africa sent a ‘development’ team to the tournament and surprised many by winning all three of their group games and making it to the quarter-finals. A patchwork side, coached by Simon Ngomane, was made up mostly of third division players after the clubs of the country’s top two divisions refused to allow their players to go off to the tournament. But despite their inexperience, South Africa beat hot favourites Ghana in the first round and chalked up two more wins before falling to Algeria. Already several of the unknown players have received offers from top flight clubs in the wake of their unexpected progress.
It will be three years before the next African Nations Championship, which is being switched to each even year as the Cup of Nations changes scheduling to every odd year from 2013. Libya is due to host the 2014 edition, and it will be in Rwanda two years later.