x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Gerets cautiously optimistic as Morocco meet Tunisia

Tunisia won the last meeting in the final eight years ago, but Morocco are the form side now.

LIBREVILLE, GABON // Eric Gerets, the Morocco coach, predicted a tournament of surprises at the African Cup of Nations, and that was before Equatorial Guinea's dramatic victory over Libya and Zambia's shock win over Senegal on the opening night.

The unexpected results will serve as a warning to Morocco ahead of games against Gabon and debutants Niger in Group C.

But first, they start against North African rivals Tunisia tonight. The match between familiar opponents takes on added importance with both hoping to be in a good position ahead of the tricky encounters against lesser known teams later in the group stage.

Gerets said Morocco and Tunisia were favourites in Group C "only on paper," and would face tough competition. "What happens on the pitch is sometimes another story because there is always surprises," he said.

Morocco and Tunisia have not met at a Cup of Nations since the final eight years ago, when Tunisia triumphed, but know each other well and share similar philosophies of strong organisation and defensive discipline.

Morocco have unfinished business against Tunisia after that final loss, but were already predicted to emerge as group winners under the tactics of Gerets and with the talents of Adel Taarabt and Marouane Chamakh, who both play in England's Premier League.

"We are not afraid. I think we need to concentrate on our group because we have a super team and so we need to show everyone," said Taarabt, the Queens Park Rangers midfielder.

"When all is said and done you've got to beat all the other teams to be champion of Africa."

Tunisia - the last team to win the Cup of Nations before Egypt's three successive titles - struggled in qualifying and were outclassed by Ivory Coast in a warm-up match.

But a game against their longtime rivals could inspire Sami Trabelsi's team to find form.

Also today, Gabon face Niger hoping to repeat Equatorial Guinea's winning start as co-host. Although it is Niger's first ever Cup of Nations game they ousted both Egypt, the seven-time champions, and South Africa in qualifying.

Ivory Coast, the early tournament favourites, rode on Didier Drogba's 39th-minute header to win 1-0 last night against Sudan. It was Drogba's 51st international goal.