On the road to a first-ever appearance at the FIFA World Cup™ in 1978, Tunisia took on their Moroccan neighbours in a crucial first-round clash. FIFA.comlooks back at an exciting and tightly contested two-legged encounter that set the tone for the Eagles of Carthage’s successful qualifying campaign.
Prior to the first leg, few observers gave the Tunisians much of a chance. Morocco had represented Africa at the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico and were still celebrating their maiden victory at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, a crown they captured in March 1976 in Addis Ababa, under the guidance of Romanian coach Gheorghe Mardarescu.
As for Tunisia, they had not even qualified for the continental contest in Ethiopia. The main concern for Abdelmajid Chetali’s men, who had never made an appearance at FIFA’s flagship tournament, was simply to put in a solid showing.
The history of confrontations between the two nations pointed to a draw, as out of 22 previous meetings, ten had finished with the teams sharing the spoils, with Morocco winning seven and Tunisia emerging triumphant five times.
Frigid first leg in Morocco
The first leg was held in Casablanca on 12 December 1976. In freezing conditions, the home side opened the scoring after 35 minutes through Abdelghani Al Khal, known as ‘Bulldozer’*. *The first half drew to a close without further incident, and the Moroccans returned to their dressing room in confident mood.
The visitors kicked off the second half in a completely different frame of mind. Determined to conjure up an equaliser, they put considerable pressure on the Moroccan rearguard.
In the 56th minute, attacking midfielder Tarak Dhiab, who would go on to win the African Footballer of the Year award in 1977, levelled the match. There would be no further scoring, much to the displeasure of the raucous home support.
One month later, on 9 January 1977, the two North African countries locked horns once more in Tunis. The second leg had striking similarities to the first, in that the home team again took the lead in the 35th minute, Khemis Al Obeidi nabbing the goal.
The away side equalised ten minutes after the break via Tarek Taher Al Rayd. Ninety minutes came and went, but it had again proved impossible to separate the teams.
Neither nation was able to make the breakthrough in extra time, and so the match would be decided by a dreaded penalty shoot-out. The Tunisian fans, who had turned out in large numbers to cheer on their heroes, generated an electric atmosphere, putting huge pressure on the Moroccan kick-takers, who consequently missed three of their five attempts.
The Eagles of Carthage won the shoot-out 4-2, recording an unexpected victory which sparked wild celebrations around the country.
Tunisia subsequently eliminated Algeria and Guinea in the second and third knock-out rounds respectively. In the final group round, they registered a draw and a win versus Nigeria and beat Egypt comprehensively at home, results which saw them top the section and advance to Argentina 1978 in impressive fashion.