Co-hosts Gabon defeated Tunisia 1-0 on Tuesday to finish top of Africa Cup of Nations Group A with a perfect nine points from three matches.
The Panthers are scheduled to play the runners-up in Group D in Libreville on Sunday, while Tunisia, who finished second in the group, are set to face the winners of Group D.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave Gabon the lead after 62 minutes, when he collected a loose ball before wrong-footing Tunisia goalkeeper Rami Jeridi for his third goal of the competition.
Skipper Daniel Cousin could have doubled the co-hosts’ lead in the 67th minute, but his shot from a rebound was well off target as Gabon seemed to be a revived team after the recess.
The North Africans fought to restore parity, but the home team were resolute in defense to hold on for another famous victory.
Tunisia rested several of their top stars, including goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi, skipper Karim Haggui, Khaled Korbi and Mejdi Traoui, as they would have missed the quarter-finals had they been booked.
All the same, the 2004 champions played with ease despite the wet conditions at the Franceville Stadium and after seven minutes Youssef Msakni fired a low drive from distance which was cushioned by Gabon goalkeeper Didier Ovono.
The Carthage Eagles continued to attack their opponents, with Aymen Abdennour coming close after 22 minutes with a header off a corner kick as Gabon struggled to put together a decent attack.
It was not until the 25th minute that Gabon had a clear sight on goal, when Roguy Meye headed wide of the mark as goalkeeper Jeridi came out to catch a long ball inside his box.
Andre Poko then tried another shot from distance three minutes later, but it was always going wide and never troubled the Tunisia goalkeeper.
In the 36th minute, Meye somehow got the better of his marker Abdennour on the edge of the box, but the header by Poko off his cross was not well directed at the Tunisia goal.
Soon after, Bruno Zita blasted his free-kick wide, after Cousin was fouled around the left-hand corner of the Tunisia goal area.
In first-half stoppage-time, the co-hosts came closest to opening the scoring when Aubameyang’s low cross was not properly cleared by the Tunisia defense and from the loose ball Cousin scuffed his shot wide from 12m.
MOROCCO V NIGER
Morocco denied Niger their first ever Africa Cup of Nations point with a 1-0 win in this meaningless closing Group C tie on Tuesday.
With both teams already knocked out, pride was the only prize on the table as qualified Gabon and Tunisia faced off in Franceville at the same time.
Morocco made a host of changes, including defenders Mehdi Benatia (suspended) and Michael Basser (injured), from the team beaten by the co-hosts on Friday.
The Atlas Lions’ attack was led by Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh, and attacking midfielder and captain Houssine Kharja, the competition’s joint top scorer with three goals.
Goalkeeper Nadir Lamyaghri made way for Mohamed Amsif.
Niger’s forward line was spearheaded by captain Moussa Maazou, whose dazzling runs caused the Tunisia defense all sorts of trouble last week.
With all of Gabon glued to events in Franceville, the Stade de L’Amitie was nearly empty.
Morocco enjoyed near total possession in the early stages without causing Niger ’keeper Daouda Kassaly too much concern, with Kharja and Youssef Hadji both shooting over the bar.
On 34 minutes Dynamo Kiev’s Celtic recruit Badr El Kaddouri had Kassaly charging out of his goal with a close-range shot, but Niger defender Kofi Dankwae’s outstretched foot cleared the ball to safety.
However, the best chance of the first half fell to the always-dangerous Maazou, who shortly after neatly controlling a high ball into the area, turned and smashed a shot, only for the ball to ricochet off the bar with Amsif beaten.
Five minutes from the break Kharja’s Cup came to a premature and painful end when the Fiorentina star left the pitch on a stretcher with a knee injury. Adil Hermach came on in the skipper’s place.
Niger, 45 minutes away from an historic first Nations Cup point, held a prayer session before the restart.
They were looking at grabbing all three points as Karim Lancina’s pinpoint 25m free-kick headed for goal on 46 minutes, only for Amsif to safely extinguish the danger.
Approaching the hour mark, another well worked move by Morocco saw Younes Belhanda find Mbark Boussoufa in the box, with Kassaly falling at the Russian-based midfielder’s feet to smother the ball.
The biggest cheer of the night came in the 65th minute — when Gabon took the lead in Franceville.
Back in Libreville, good work from Kassaly was keeping Morocco at bay until the 89th minute when Chamakh fed Montpellier Herault midfielder Belhanda, whose sliding right-footed shot broke Niger’s hearts and perhaps kept Morocco coach Eric Gerets in a job.
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