Tunisia, Algeria headed for African cup semi-finals
TUNIS - Neighbours Tunisia and Algeria advanced to the African Cup of Nations semi-finals, setting the stage for a dramatic close to the biennial football tournament.
Tunisia will make its first semi-final appearance in 15 years against favourite Senegal, while Algeria will match up with Nigeria.
The Carthage Eagles impressed in the round of 8 with a dominant 3-0 win against Madagascar, with goals from Ferjani Sassi, top striker Youssef Msakni and Naim Sliti.
Algeria bested Ivory Coast in penalties after a dramatic 120 minutes of action finished 1-1.
The deep runs by the two Arab teams come as a welcome respite for populations weathering social and political turbulence at home.
Over three months after longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was ousted in Algeria, the country’s political future remains unclear. Demonstrators who have taken to the streets have failed to agree on a satisfactory electoral roadmap with the country’s ruling establishment, which remains dogged by accusations of corruption and political jockeying.
Tunisia, whose capital was recently hit by twin terror attacks claimed by ISIS, is also embroiled in political strife ahead of crucial presidential and parliamentary elections later this year. A controversial law passed by parliament that could bar leading prospects from participating in the polls has raised questions about constitutionality and democratic norms.
But politics was briefly out of sight for millions of fans from the two North African countries as their squads took to the pitch Thursday evening.
Adam Eddouss, one Tunisian fan living in Egypt, where the tournament is being held, said that Tunisia’s success had come as “a happy surprise.”
“Like the other teams in the African Cup, the Eagles would make Tunisians very happy (if they win)," Eddouss said. “It means a lot to be the winning team in Africa and it is definitely a moment that would unite everyone and make Tunisians feel proud. I am very hopeful we will reach the final, and I am... planning to get a ticket for the final game if we (do)."
“I think (the tournament) gives us a break from the political misery and downs that we’ve been facing,” he added.
The CAF semi-finals are scheduled for July 14, with the final to be held July 19.
But North African football could be in for even more drama following the cup due to a pending Confederation of African Football (CAF) club rematch between teams from Tunisia and Morocco.
Last month, African football’s governing body cancelled the outcome of the final leg of a club championship match between Tunisia’s Esperance and Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca in Tunis.
Tunisia’s Esperance had been awarded the victory after play was stopped 60 minutes in when players protested that a video replay system (VAR) was unavailable to review a disallowed goal.
CAF later ruled the match must be replayed in a neutral venue because “the playing and security conditions were not met” in Tunisia, “preventing the match from reaching its conclusion.”