The Carthage Eagles, champions of the 2004 Afcon edition, know they have a tall order ahead as Senegal has been tipped by many to win their first ever African title.
Tunisia and Senegal are two of the continent’s in-form sides, which translates to a potentially pulsating game of football.
The teams will lock horns tonight in Franceville when referee Sidi Alioum of Cameroon blows his game whistle.
The North Africans are coached by Henri Kasperczak who has installed a solid defensive set-up that teams have found hard to crack. Tunisia finished top of the group in Afcon qualifying, only conceding three goals in six games – a testament to Kasperczak’s work.
Ironically, they will face a Senegal side brimming with fantastic attacking talent as they sit as the number one ranked team on the continent going into the football fiesta. Sadio Mane comes into the tourney on the back of some impressive displays for Liverpool in the English Premiership and will be ably supported by Mousa Sow, Keita Baldé Diao and the exciting teenage prospect, Ismail Saar.
Coach Aliou Cisse will have to find a way to end the hoodoo and deliver a first ever Africa Cup of Nations title for the Teranga Lions. Both teams love to play fluid, attacking football but Kasperzack also tends to add a bit of defensive solidity at the back to complement the forwards.
Valencia’s Aymen Abdennor is the main man at the back for Tunisia. The tough-as-nails defender will be at the heart of the defence to stop the goals getting past veteran goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi. There is no Yassine Chikhaoui this time around but the effervescent Youssef Msakni will be the creative force for Tunisia with Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri providing support.
Aliou Cisse’s Senegal are going to be a threat to any side because of the quality they possess on every part of the field.The defence will be marshalled by Napoli’s Kalidou Coulibaly and Kara Mbodj while Cisses usually deploys Everton’s Idrissa Gana Gueye in front of a back four with the giant Cheikhou Kouyate in the pivot. Lazio’s Balde, Mousa Sow and Sadio Mane will lead a three-prong attack for Cisse’s men, a herculean task for any defence.
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The last time the two sides met in a competitive game was in a 2014 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in Monastir. Tunisia defeated Senegal 1-0 on the day and will look to repeat that against a crack Senegalese side.There have been 19 games between the two sides in recent history with Tunisia having the upper hand. The Carthage Eagles have won nine of those, drawn seven and lost three.
Form coming into game:
Tunisia: L D W W W
Senegal: W D L W W
Aymen Abdennour (Tunisia): Undisputed leader at the back for Tunisia and the man whom the Carthage Eagles will rely on for solidity at the back.The Valencia centre-back is a tough-as-nails defender who is highly rated in Spain and his native Tunisia. Abdennour is usually suspected when going in for the tackles and his disciplinary record isn’t exactly clean but he makes that up with commitment and leadership on the pitch.
Veteran goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouti will also bring his wealth of experience to the Tunisian side. Not exactly the tallest of keepers, Mathlouti, however, is a fantastic shot-stopper and difficult to beat in one-on-one situations.
Sadio Mane (Senegal): One of the hottest strikers at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations who a lot of Senegalese fans will keep an eye on to lead the Teranga Lions to African glory. Pacy and full of tricks, Mane is a handful on his day with speed and fantastic technical skills his main forte. A lot of defences in Gabon will not like facing Mane who is in red-hot form at the moment.
Cheikhou Kouyate is another one to keep an eye on in the Senegalese squad with the West Ham midfielder providing steel and guile for the Lions. He has become an integral part of the Senegalese squad since his heroics at the London 2012 Olympics and will be a key ingredient in coach Aliou Cisse’s tactics against the Tunisians on match-day.
Goalkeepers:Aymen Mathlouthi (Etoile du Sahel, Tunisia), Rami Jridi (CS Sfaxien, Tunisia), Moez Ben Cherifia (Esperance, Tunisia)
Defenders: Aymen Abdennour (Valencia, Spain), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly, Egypt), Chamseddine Dhaouadi (Esperance), Hamdi Nagguez (Etoile du Sahel), Hamza Mathlouthi (CS Sfaxien), Mohamed Ali Yacoubi (Rizespor, Turkey), Siyam Ben Youssef (Caen, France), Slimane Kchok (CA Bizertin), Zied Boughattas (Etoile du Sahel)
Midfielders: Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Ferjani Sassi (Esperance), Larry Azouni (Nîmes, France), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Etoile), Naim Sliti (Lille, France), Hamza Lahmar (Etoile), Wahbi Khazri (Sunderland, England), Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya, Qatar)
Forwards: Ahmed Akaïchi (Ittihad, Saudi Arabia), Saber Khelifa (Club Africain), Taha Yassine Khenissi (Esperance)
Goalkeepers: Khadim N’Diaye (Horoya AC, Guinea), Abdoulaye Diallo (Çaykur Rizespor, Turkey), Pape Seydou N’Diaye (ASC Niarry Tally).
Defenders: Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor, Turkey), Cheikh M’Bengue (Saint-Etienne, France), Kara Mbodj (Anderlecht, Belgium), Zargo Toure (Lorient, France), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli, Italy), Saliou Ciss (Valenciennes, France)
Midfielders: Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, England), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham, England), Cheikh N’Doye (Angers, France), Papakouli Diop (Espanyol, Spain), Henri Saivet (Saint-Etienne, France), Papa Alioune Ndiaye (Osmanlispor, Turkey), Mohamed Diame (Newcastle, England)
Forwards: Sadio Mane (Liverpool England), Keita Balde Diao (Lazio, Italy), Moussa Konate (FC Sion, Switzerland), Famara Diedhiou (Angers, France), Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke, England), Ismaila Sarr (Metz, France), Moussa Sow (Fenerbahce, Turkey)