Trabelsi's Tunisia out to make amends
Following agony at missing the FIFA World Cup™ finals in South Africa and first round casualties at the 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations - Tunisia turn up in Gabon itching to prove a point. The north Africans took the back door route to Gabon/Equatorial Guinea as runners-up to Botswana in qualifying, a 5-0 rout of Chad helping them on their way.
Spirits in the Carthage Eagles camp will have soared at the 2012 draw which shone kindly on Sami Trabelsi's men. Tunisia, victorious on home turf in 2004 when under the guidance of former France coach Roger Lemerre, are eyeing at least a quarter-final spot from a Group C in which they are favourites with fellow heavyweights Morocco.
Ranked the tenth best team in Africa, and 59th in the world, they warmed up for the 21 January - 12 February competition with a resounding 3-0 win over fellow finalists Sudan. Their 2012 journey begins with Morocco, the north African neighbours they beat in the final in Tunis seven years ago, on 23 January, followed by shock qualifiers Niger four days later before co-hosts Gabon on 31 January.
Tunisia and Gabon are no strangers - their paths crossed in the Nations Cup in South Africa in 1996 with the Tunisians sneaking the quarter-final clash on penalties, losing to the hosts in the final. Defending their 2004 title proved hard work as they failed to make it past the last eight in both 2006 and 2008 before a disappointing time in Angola when they finished at the foot of their group after three stalemates, including a 0-0 draw with Gabon.
Trabelsi was appointed in March 2011 after a turbulent period as a result of the popular uprising that toppled former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali with three coaches appointed in as many months. The former boss of Tunisia's Olympic team who played at the 1998 FIFA World Cup duly carried out his remit to secure his side's safe passage to Gabon.
Now the hard work begins. Karim Haggui, the defender who plays his club football with German side Hannover 96, provides some rare continuity as he was among Lemerre's title winning squad in 2004. Teammate Issam Jemaa made his international debut the following year and hasn't looked back since, the Auxerre striker emerging as his country's all time top scorer with six of his 28 goal haul coming in qualifying. The 27-year-old's sharp shooting will prove crucial for a Tunisia side desperate to refind their feet on the world stage.