For both Cape Verde and Tunisia their respective AFCON opener in Ebebiyín represents somewhat of a grudge match following a controversial World Cup qualifier between the pair back in September 2013.
With second round qualification at its final furlong Cape Verde travelled to Rades knowing only an unlikely victory would see them unseat Tunisia in the race for a playoff berth, yet it was a mission they would accomplish to resign the Carthage Eagles to both a rare home defeat and apparent World Cup elimination.
Several days later, however, there would be as a twist as Tunisia were reinstated via Cape Verde being found guilty of utilising an ineligible player. The disgruntled islanders would protest but there was to be no reversal of the decision.
The connotations are not quite so do or die this time around with the two nations both highly fancied to progress from group B, although defeat on Sunday evening for either would leave them feeling relatively uneasy regarding their last eight hopes – particularly Cape Verde whose next assignment is a date with the unpredictable yet dangerous DR Congo.
Since that ill-fated clash, both sides have made managerial alterations. Although Tunisia were provided with a reprieve the ignominy of that home defeat in Rades cut deep, with frustrations only heightened by a playoff exit at the hands of a disjointed Cameroon.
Those twin humiliations saw the appointment of Georges Leekens and under his stewardship the previously floundering North Africans have blossomed, with the hugely impressive manner in which Tunisia toppled both Senegal and Egypt in qualification evidence of their revival.
For Cape Verde, the inspirational Lucio Antunes, who oversaw their upsurge from virtual minnows to AFCON quarter-finalists, departed following that gut-wrenching World Cup elimination. Rui Águas has stepped into Antunes’ hefty shoes with near seamless efficiency, although the former Benfica striker was aided by the bulk of Antunes prosperous squad remaining in place and a kind qualification draw, which Cape Verde navigated with minimal fuss.
The draw has aligned in a manner that for both a semi-final spot is not inconceivable, although neither is clear of doubts. Cape Verde’s worries circle over Águas’ lack of recent coaching experience, whilst the disappearance of the shock factor that aided the Blue Sharks’ remarkable journey to the quarter-finals two years ago is likely to be a substantial hindrance.
Further to that key attacking outlet Heldon has seen his minutes restricted at club level, although from a positive stance the Sporting C.P man will enter the tournament fresh and with a point to prove.
In regards to Tunisia, they have traditionally struggled in sub-Saharan Africa. Further to that, as notable as their qualification campaign was, the goals didn’t exactly flow. Together with Congo and Zambia, the Carthage Eagles were the lowest scoring qualifiers. That famine infront of goal reflecting more on unsatisfactory striker stocks rather than Tunisia’s ability to create chances, given Leekens can rely on numerous game changers in midfield.
Although defeat in Ebebiyín would be far from terminal neither side will want to fall off the momentum train at the first hurdle. Of the deficiencies listed Tunisia’s are arguably the least substantial, meaning Leekens’ disciplined side, who conceded just twice during qualification, will take to the field as favourites.
That being said, Cape Verde with an array of attacking resources and set piece threat should not be ruled out from scripting another compelling chapter in their extraordinary rise up Africa’s footballing pyramid.