Morocco, Tunisia to renew rivalry

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LIBREVILLE – Morocco and Tunisia will be looking to start the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations on a high note when they meet in a Group C clash in Libreville tonight. Kick-off is at 21h00.

Winning this match would be vital for both teams before they face the other sides in the group, co-hosts Gabon and debutants Niger.

The two sides met in the final in 2004, with hosts Tunisia edging Morocco 2-1. With reigning champions Egypt failing to qualify for this year’s tournament, both countries will tip themselves to fly the flag for North Africa.

Eric Gerets’ Morocco lost once en route to qualifying as winners of Group D, while Sam Trabelsi’s men were defeated twice before finishing as runner’s up in the five-team Group K, three points behind Botswana.

In contrast to the Moroccan squad, which includes only four players who play in the local league and a large number of Europe-based players, the Tunisian squad has 11 local players, with six of them currently in the books of Esperance.

Their preparations ahead of the tournament were also different, with Tunisia beating Sudan 3-0 before losing to Ivory Coast 2-0, while Morocco opted to play a warm-up match against Swiss club Grasshoppers, which they won 3-1.

Morocco coach Eric Gerets feels their training camp in Spain was a success and is confident that they can go all the way to lift the cup they last won in 1976.

“We are ready to enter into the African Nations Cup after a very good preparation period in Spain,” said Gerets.

“No player is hurt and everyone is fit for the first meeting against Tunisia. Even Oussama Assaidi is one day ahead of schedule and has been passed fit by the medical staff.

“My players are very motivated to start the competition.”

Meanwhile,Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi has tried to ease the pressure on the Eagles of Carthage by pointing out that there are two other matches to be played after Monday’s big clash.

“We are one of the candidates for the title. The match against Morocco will be very important, but not decisive,” said Trabelsi.

“We are in good shape, and it’s important to start well.”

Morocco will be counting on Arsenal’s Marouane Chamakh and Stade Rennais’ Youssouf Hadji to provide them with the much-needed goals, while the Tunisians will be expecting the same from Auxerre striker Issam Jemaa and Amine Chermiti of FC Zurich.