Tunisia took the Maghreb derby honors on Monday, a 2-1 defeat of Morocco putting them alongside Gabon at the top of Group C at the Africa Cup of Nations.
The north African neighbors’ last Cup of Nations meeting came in the 2004 final won by Tunisia, who also denied Morocco qualification to the 2006 World Cup and the Carthage Eagles claimed the bragging rights again with goals in either half from Khaled Korbi and Youssef Msakni, with Houssine Kharja getting a dubious late consolation for Morocco.
Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi said: “This was a precious victory that will help us. We played well as a team ... but the competition is long, this is just one victory, we have lots of matches in front of us, I hope we can progress.”
“We were better in defense than — when you look at the quality of players we have available — in midfield and in attack,” he added.
“We deserved to win, I hope our new generation of players will write their own history now,” captain Karim Haggui said.
Morocco coach Eric Gerets said that his side had to bounce back against co-hosts Gabon.
“This is the Nations Cup, it’s full of surprises, that’s life, now we’ve got to show the mental strength we’ve displayed over the past year,” the Belgian said. “Our second match against Gabon is an all or nothing situation.”
Morocco skipper Kharja said that he and his teammates needed to be a bit more savvy in their remaining two games.
“We didn’t deserve to lose, we still have two matches to qualify, I think we can do it, we just have to use our heads,” he said.
Gerets chose Arsenal’s Marouane Chamakh to spearhead Morocco’s attack alongside Oussama Assaidi, with Queens Park Rangers’ Adel Taraabt on the bench.
Tunisia were missing Auxerre-attached Issam Jemaa, top scorer in qualifying, but sidelined with an ankle problem.
The match got underway with the Stade de l’Amitie only half full.
The two favorites to qualify from the group were creating plenty of early chances, one of the better ones coming before the half hour was up when Zouhaier Dhaouadi struck from outside the box with only the post preventing Tunisia from taking control.
They did just that on 34 minutes when Korbi’s dipping free-kick from 25m sailed over the Morocco defense to hit the inside of Nadir Lamyaghri’s far upright and cross the line.
Morocco would have leveled before the break only for Younes Belhanda to shoot narrowly off target after some nimble footwork from the Montpellier Herault man in front of Aymen Mathlouthi’s goal.
Gerets made one switch at the restart, bringing on Taarabt for Assaidi in a bid to salvage something and the QPR forward was quickly making his presence felt.
Gerets later introduced Youssef Hadji for Boussoufa and the Stade Rennais striker soon had his head in his hands when, after beautifully controlling a long lob in the area, he shot wide.
Morocco were getting plenty of the ball, but Tunisia’s defense, marshaled by Haggui, held firm.
On 75 minutes second-half substitute Msakni bagged his first for his country when fending off Ahmed Kantari and then Badr El Kaddouri to slice the ball across the box and into the far corner of the net.
Morocco pulled one back with four minutes to go when Ahmed Kantari, who appeared well offside, crossed from the right for Kharja to convert and the Fiorentina midfielder had Tunisian hearts in their mouths again in stoppage-time when he shaved the crossbar.