Tunisia vow to win African football cup for 'liberators'

AFP, Thursday 24 Feb 2011

Tunisia have vowed to win the African Nations Championship final against Angola in Sudan Friday for the people who recently toppled dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali

Tunisia CHAN

"Our aim is to bring happiness and joy to the people who liberated Tunisia," coach Sami Trabelsi told reporters in Khartoum before the climax of the biennial tournament for home-based footballers.

Widely detested Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia last month as the winds of political change blowing across North Africa reached gale force, but the popular uprising played havoc with the Tunisian squad preparations.

"We did not have the planned build-up because of political events at home yet arrived in Sudan with a thirst to play and win," said the handler of a team that eliminated title holders DR Congo in the quarter-finals.

"Tunisian football has been in the dark since winning the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations. However, I am sure we will regain our place among the elite either here or very soon."

Last year was particularly depressing for Tunisian football with a first round exit from the Cup of Nations in Angola followed by Esperance and CS Sfaxien finishing runners-up in the major Pan-African club competitions.

Esperance, Sfaxien, Etoile Sahel and Club Africain -- the traditional giants of domestic football -- supply 18 of the 23-strong squad including goalkeeper and captain Aymen Mathlouthi.

Tunisia drew 1-1 with Angola at the group stage, surrendering the lead deep in stoppage time and Trabelsi did not hide his admiration of the Southern Africans.

"They remind me of Brazil. I was particularly impressed by the technical quality of the Angolans ... their organisation in midfield and attack," said the coach who played for his country at the 1998 World Cup in France.

The comparison was ironic as Angola trained for several weeks in the South American country under new coach Lito Vidigal ahead of a first Nations Championship appearance.

Angola qualified for the final despite winning just one of five matches -- they ousted Cameroon and Sudan in the knockout stage via penalty shootouts as hours of practising spot kicks paid off.

Vidigal and rival coaches have lauded the mental toughness of a side captained by defender Carlos 'Kali' Alonso, whose header salvaged a point against the Tunisians in Port Sudan.

"We never give up and no game is over until the final whistle blows. Take the Tunisia game -- we were down but my players responded very well and got their reward," boasted Vidigal.

He built his squad around stars from Luanda-based perennial title contenders Primeiro Agosto and Petro Atletico, who contribute 15 of the squad while just two come from champions InterClube.

"My team has a positive winning mentality. We have not played dazzling football en route to the final but are through," said Vidigal of a team hoping to become the first from Angola to win a Pan-African national team title.

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