Bruised Niger braced for tough Tunisia test

Tunisia’s national football team coach Samir Trabelsi

Niger, virtually played off the park in their Africa Cup of Nations debut against Gabon, are in for another stern test when they face 2004 titleholders Tunisia here on Friday.

While Tunisia are seeking the win that will all but put them into the quarter-finals after their opening 2-1 Group C victory against Morocco, Niger are desperate to restore their battered pride.

“We know we could have done better on Monday against Gabon. Now we are going in search of Niger’s first ever Nations Cup points,” coach Harouna Doula told AFP.

“We were disappointed in our performance in our first match, but there were a lot of reasons, the pressure of playing our first Cup game, the pressure of playing the co-hosts….

“We are hoping for better on Friday.”

Doula added: “We became a little destabilised against Gabon. Are there any positives we can take from that game? Well I think we played as well as we could, even though we’ve done better in the past.

“We’re preparing ourselves psychologically for Morocco.”

Captain Idrissa Laouali suggested the Gabon win “has given us motivation for Morocco.

“On Friday we’ll reinforce our defence. We’re able to do a lot better. It’s good to represent your country, and just because we’ve lost our opening game that doesn’t mean we can’t win our next two.”

Doula denied rumours of a rift between himself and the team’s consultant, former Marseille manager Roland Courbis, even though Courbis it was who was calling the shots at training on Wednesday.

“There’s no problem,” insisted Doula.

Niger will take to the field without Tidjani Amadou Moutari Kalala, their bright teenage hope who suffered a fractured left fibula as a result of a rash tackle by Gabon’s Stephane Nguema five minutes after coming on as a second half substitute on Monday.

Tunisia put themselves in a solid position to make the last eight by downing Morocco with goals in either half from Khaled Korbi and second half substitute Youssef Msakni.

Coach Sami Trabelsi put the win down to his side’s spirit and aggression and rated the Niger clash as “more important than the game against Morocco”.

But despite his satisfaction at picking up maximum points Trabelsi believed there was room for improvement.

“We were better in defence than – when you look at the quality of players we have available – in midfield and in attack,” he noted.

Captain Karim Haggui, a member of the Tunisia side that claimed the title on home soil in 2004, says the 2012 generation are in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea “to write their own history”.

“Looking at the potential of these young players that we’ve got I really hope we can write it at this Nations Cup,” he said.

Striker Zouhaier Dhaouadi, with Tunisia in Angola in 2010 when they failed to make it out of the first round, says he and his teammates are facing a virtual unknown quantity in Niger.

“We don’t have much of an idea of what they’re like, we’ve been preparing for them by watching videos of them….but the win against Morocco has given us confidence.”

Fellow striker Saber Khalifa picked up a knee injury against Morocco and could be a doubt but in contrast French-based defender Khalil Chammam is available from suspension.

©2011 AFP