Algeria/Tunisia: Opening Match Is Make or Break, Says Algeria

Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo-Stanbic
Karim Haggui of Tunisia during a 2010 match.

Algeria have been talking for weeks now of the importance of their opening match against Tunisia at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg on Tuesday.

Defeat, they believe, would virtually end their tournament before it has really begun, and a loss has been described as “unthinkable”.

But victory will be hard to come by against their north African rivals, even though Algeria go into the tournament as the second-placed African nation on the FIFA world rankings, behind Group D rivals Cote d’Ivoire.

“The match against Tunisia will determine our future in this competition,” says coach Vahid Halilhodzic, who ironically was in charge of Cote d'Ivoire when they were ousted by Algeria in the quarter-finals in 2010.

“Anything is possible at the Cup of Nations. Honestly, who bet even one dime that Zambia would win the last competition [in 2012]? I can assure Algerians that we will not be in South Africa as tourists.

“My squad is inexperienced but full of desire to do well. Although I am optimistic, it will not be a major surprise if we are eliminated after the opening round. If we get to the quarter-finals you never know what can happen, but we have to get there first and it starts with a positive result from our outing against Tunisia.”

It is a view backed up by Algeria forward Mohamed Amine Aoudia: “This game is very important to us. It could be the key to our qualification for the quarter-finals.”

The Fennec Foxes have had a decent build-up to the tournament, though they did look below par in their 0-0 warm-up match with South Africa.

They faded badly in the game and could well be affected by the altitude here again.

Tunisia’s build-up has been anything but smooth, with coach Sami Trabelsi warning his players they need to improve quickly if they are to make an impression on this tournament.

They were held to 1-1 draws by Ethiopia and Gabon in their training camp in Abu Dhabi, before suffering a 4-2 loss to Ghana.

Algeria edge the head-to-head between these two sides slightly with 15 wins to 11, but surprisingly perhaps, this is the first time they are meeting in the continental finals.

Defeat here would leave the losers facing the possibility of having to get wins against both Cote d’Ivoire and Togo to advance to the quarter-finals, or at the very least, to gain four points from their remaining games and hope other results go their way.

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