EBIBEYIN, Equatorial Guinea, Jan 22 (Reuters) – A 2-1 win over Zambia gave Tunisia top spot in African Nations Cup Group B on Thursday but quarter-final places remained undetermined.
Tunisia have four points from two games, two ahead of Cape Verde and the Democratic Republic of Congo who shared a dreary goalless draw in the second game of the night in front of 5,000-enthusiastic supporters at Estadio de Ebibeyin.
Zambia are bottom with one point and can still dream of progressing to the last eight.
Captain Yassine Chikhaoui scored one minute from the end as Tunisia fought back from a goal down to defeat the Zambians, winners in 2012.
Emmanuel Mayuka made up for several misses earlier in the match when he blasted home at the back post for a 60th-minute lead before going off soon after with a groin injury.
Zambia were full value for their advantage but lost concentration and conceded a simple goal from a corner that was flicked on by Syam Ben Youssef and finished by Ahmed Akaichi in the 70th minute.
Just as a third successive game in Group B looked set for a 1-1 draw, Youssef Msakni set up Chikhaoui with a well-flighted lob that the captain ran on to with perfect timing to head home the winner.
“We showed the force of our character,” said Tunisia coach Georges Leekens. “Despite a poor first half the players assumed responsibility in the second and delivered a good performance even if the referee deprived us of two penalties.”
Cape Verde were denied a late goal by DR Congo’s 38-year-old goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba who made several important saves in the final five minutes.
The oldest player at the tournament stopped a header from defender Fernando Varela before, pouncing like a cat, smothering the rebound from Gege to deny Cape Verde a breakthrough after 85 minutes of turgid exchanges.
Cape Verde substitute Heldon then broke free and cut inside but again Kidiaba belied his age to spring off the line and cover his angles perfectly, blocking the shot with his chest.
“Football is never just and we have a real feeling of frustration after missing our chances,” said coach Rui Aguas. The only shot on target from the Congolese came from Yannick Bolasie on the stroke of halftime.
They also had captain Youssouf Mulumbu carried off on a stretcher in the first half with a hamstring injury which threatens his continued participation in the finals.
On Monday, Zambia play Cape Verde in Ebibeyin at the same time as the Tunisia-DR Congo game in Bata.
Editing by Tony Jimenez; firstname.lastname@example.org; +240222770533; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com