Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) became the latest two teams to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations on Monday after playing out a 1-1 draw in Bata, Equatorial Guinea.
The result, coupled with a goalless stalemate between Cape Verde and 2012 champions Zambia under a tropical deluge in Ebebiyin, allowed the two nations to secure their berths in the last eight of the competition.
Georges Leekens’ Carthage Eagles can now look forward to a meeting with host nation Equatorial Guinea on Saturday, when DR Congo take on their neighbors the Republic of the Congo in an equally fascinating confrontation.
Tunisia, tipped by some as genuine contenders to win the competition at its outset, knew that a win would see them progress to the knockout stage as winners of Group B and they were on course to take all three points when Ahmed Akaichi headed home his second goal of the tournament just past the half-hour mark.
However, the Leopards fought back to equalize just before the midway point in the second half, when Dieumerci Mbokani headed down for substitute Loteteka Bokila to finish.
That proved enough for DR Congo to progress as runners-up behind Tunisia thanks to events on the other side of the small country.
In Ebebiyin, torrential rain, thunder, lightning and a swirling wind made good play impossible, although Zambia missed a last-gasp chance to snatch victory and a last-eight spot when Mukuka Mulenga shot wide.
It was the second consecutive first-round exit for the Chipolopolo after they lifted the trophy against all the odds three years ago.
Elimination proved a bitter blow, too, for the Blue Sharks, who reached the quarter-finals in their Cup of Nations debut two years ago, but this time go home by virtue of having scored one goal fewer than DR Congo.
“It is a fantastic feeling. We worked for it and we deserved it, but we need to score goals, and were lucky Cape Verde and Zambia only drew,” captain Youssouf Mulumbu said after DR Congo qualified for the last eight for the first time since 2006.
They next face their neighbors from across the Congo River for just the fourth time in the competition, and the first time in 41 years.
The meeting will be extra special because of the Claude Le Roy connection — the Frenchman now in charge of Congo, who took the Leopards to the last eight in 2006 and also coached them at the last Cup of Nations two years ago.
“They will be tough opponents with an established coach. It will be more than a derby and it will be very difficult for us, and hopefully for them too,” DR Congo coach Florent Ibenge said.
Meanwhile, Tunisia can look forward to a clash with the hosts, which is due to be played at the tiny Ebebiyin Stadium on Saturday, creating a potential organizational headache for the Confederation of African Football.
“Tunisia are happy, Congo are happy, Equatorial Guinea are happy, everyone is happy. Life is great,” Tunisia’s veteran Belgian coach Leekens said. “It won’t be easy because they were fantastic yesterday. I am happy for the country, but now we want to qualify. It will be difficult because they will have the fans behind them, but I am quite confident.”
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