Since their 2004 triumph Africa Nations have been almost perpetually disappointing for Tunisia. 2006 brought a penalty defeat by Nigeria, 6-5, and two years later a 93rd minute, extra time goal from Cameroon put paid to Tunisian hopes after the side had performed admirably to recover from two goals down. This year’s competition sees Tunisia drawn against one of the strongest sides in the tournament, although Ghana’s Group D draw with Guinea shows that the Black Stars are not invincible. That result did, however, come in the final match of the round, when Ghana’s qualification was already confirmed. Guinea may be the first and last side to benefit from Ghanaian lethargy.
Nevertheless, escaping the group stage is the very least Tunisia will have expected, and a third-consecutive group stage elimination is unlikely to be considered a good performance. Coach Sami Trabelsi can at least take heart from the presence of Issam Jemaa, scorer of the crucial winning goal against Niger, and midfielder Youssef Msakni, the 21-year-old who has scored twice in three games so far. Jemaa and Msakni, at either end of the international experience scale – 28-year-old Jemaa has 59 caps to Msakni’s 11 – have each contributed to Tunisia’s success so far, Jemaa by adding experience to what is a youthful squad, Msakni by netting vital goals.
Zambia, impressive in their 3-0 quarter-final over Sudan, await the winners of the Tunisia-Ghana match. But looking past the Black Stars will bring Tunisia’s tournament to a premature end. The powerful and experienced Ghana are seeking a first Africa Cup of Nations tournament victory since 1982, having finished second in 2010 and third in 2008, making this match a contest between two nations who have recently reached the latter stages of past editions of the tournament. But Ghana are more heavily favoured this time around, by virtue of their better performances over the last four years. Yet Tunisia are no pushovers either, and, should they get past Ghana, are more than capable of going all the way.
Ghana no doubt represent one of the toughest challenges possible for Tunisia, but after overcoming a troublesome group, including the might of Morocco, Tunisia should not overtly fear their next opponents. They should, however, afford Ghana the respect their talents clearly deserve, and striking the right balance will do much to determine if Tunisia progress or not. Once finding the attitude necessary, Tunisia then have to match Ghana on the field – no mean feat, but Jemaa, Msakni and particularly Coach Trabelsi will have to be at their best. If they are, then Tunisia can match their 2004 achievement eight years later.