Following on from the draw played earlier between DR Congo and Zambia, both teams here knew a win would put them at the top of the group. This game was also played in the Nuevo Estadio de Ebebiyin, a new stadium in the far North-East tip of Equatorial Guinea. The first half was a fairly cagey affair, like so many first games for teams in competitions like this, the onus being on avoiding defeat. That’s not to say there were no chances though, the first coming as early as the second minute when Fernando Varela, of Steaua Bucharest, headed a lofted free kick onto the woodwork.
Tunisia steadily took control of the match, enjoying the greater share of possession as the half wore on, but without creating too many chances. The Carthage Eagles best chance of the half would fall to Ahmed Akaichi, leaping to head down a deep cross, well saved by the Cape Verde goal-keeper Vozinha. Shortly after though, a neat passing move between Almeida Ramos and Tavares Semedo brought out a great save from Aymen Mathlouthi in the Tunisian goal, though Semedo will feel he should have done better with the chance. Five minutes before the half-time break brought the major talking point of the half when man of the match Heldon of Cape Verde was brought down by Jamel Saihi, replays showing that contact was made inside the box. Fortunately for Saihi and the Tunisian side, referee Eric Otogo-Castane gave only a free kick outside the box, the teams going into half-time goal-less.
More chances were to come for the Cape Verde Blue Sharks in the second half and their overall performance will give them the confidence they can achieve Rui Aguas’ goal of reaching another Quarter-Final spot as they did in their first Africa Cup of Nations appearance two years ago in South Africa. Some f their football was a joy to watch, a great dummy from inspirational captain Babanco, allowing striker Kuca to shoot past mathlouthi only for his effort to be cleared off the line by defender Syam Youssef. Now it was the Tunisians turn to enjoy a period of dominance, firstly hitting the woodwork from a centred free-kick, captain Yassine Chikhaoui the unlucky party this time. From the rebound Yousseff was able to bundle home but was correctly judged to have impeded the goalkeeper in doing so.
With twenty minutes remaining, Tunisia created their first move of the quality that has come to be expected of them, a sublime one touch passing move involving a through ball from Saihi to Maaloul who’s perfect pass across the box allowed the oncoming Mohamed Ali Manser to strike high into the goal from the edge of the 6 yard box, 1-0 and what a goal. But the lead was to be short-lived, another controversial refereeing decision following 5 minutes after the goal. As the ever-present Heldon burst through on goal he was brought down on the edge of the box, this time Otogo-Castane having no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot. Replays showed that there was no contact on Heldon and that he had gone to ground outside the box. None of this affected his penalty-taking skills though as he stepped up to confidently smash home the equalising penalty. To be fair to Cape Verde it was no more than they deserved on the day and a great result for them, though with all teams now on identical points and goal difference, it’s back to square one for the next round of games on Thursday. Tunisia will be aware of the improvements needed in their play if they are to do well in this tournament, coach George Leekens echoing this when after the game he stressed the importance of their next fixture against the Zambia.