Nigeria and Tunisia say they are spurred by third
Alain Giresse and Gernot Rohr lead Tunisia and Nigeria respectively into the battle of the nearly-men in Cairo on Wednesday night with doubt hanging over their futures.
Irony laces Giresse’s situation. Senegal – a team he coached for two years – were the authors of his side's demise in the semi-final in Cairo on Sunday.
He was at the helm of Senegal between 2013 and 2015 and was succeeded by Aliou Cissé who may have inadvertently damned him with his praise.
“A lot of this victory is down to Alain,” said Cissé after the triumph at the 30 June Stadium. “Because he left me a good group of players and also because he did excellent work with them. He is a major factor in this success.”
But tributes don’t pay the bills. And Giresse may be searching for gainful employment after the match for third place at the Al-Salam Stadium.
His relationship with the top brass at the Tunisian football federation is strained after they sacked one of his hand-picked assistants during the Cup of Nations. And if he were to part ways with Tunisia, he says he is keen to have an additional line on the CV.
“Third place gets you on the podium just like in the Olympic Games,” said Giresse on the eve of the clash with Nigeria.
“Only the first three are recognised and get a medal. But even if we finish fourth, it really isn’t such a bad outcome given all the teams that started in the competition. And third place is better than fourth.”
Giresse replaced Faouzi Benzarti as Tunisia coach in December 2018. The 66-year-old Frenchman has helped the side eclipse its performances at the 2015 and 2017 Cup of Nations where they reached the last eight.
And he insisted there would be no sentimentality towards his players for the final fling at the 2019 tournament.
“Since I’ve said that third place has an importance, there won’t be massive changes for the game. I won’t change for the sake of change," said the former France internatonal. "I will look at who has recovered from the semi-final and I will pick the most competitive team possible.”
Two weeks ago, third place appeared hyper wishful thinking for Tunisia. Such was their torpor. They went into their final game in Group E with two points following stalemates against Angola and Mali. They drew with Mauritania and advanced as runners-up with three points thanks to Mali’s 1-0 defeat of Angola.
After scraping past Ghana in the last 16 thanks to a penalty shoot-out, Tunisia engaged and pulverised an overstretched Madagascar outfit in the quarter-final before the controversial loss to Senegal where Bamlak Tessema Weyesa initially awarded a penalty for handball towards the end of extra-time.
However the Ethiopian official rescinded the decision after consulting the video assistant referee (Var).
“Before the tournament we spoke with the referees who told us that it will be a penalty if the ball touches your hand in the area,” said defender Mohamed Drager. “That’s why I don’t understand why we didn’t get the penalty. I don’t even understand why he went to the Var area to watch the scene again.
“It was a clear penalty. The whole world saw it. But we have to accept it. We had other opporuntiies to score. We don’t need to talk about this penalty as we could have ended the game within the first 90 minutes.”
Nigeria, in their match against Algeria, were offered a lifeline by a penalty awarded after a Var review. Odion Ighalo converted the kick. But it was to no avail. Riyad Mahrez scored from a free-kick in the dying seconds to curtail the flight of the Super Eagles.
“Of course there is disappointment after losing in the last second from a free-kick,” said Rohr. “But we’ve analysed the match on video and we saw that we played a good match.
"It was a good fight and the statistics were good for us against probably the best team so far. So to lose in these conditions is no shame.
“We have to be positive and we want to finish well together,” added Rohr who has refused to discuss his future until after the match.
“I’ve told the players that it’s better to arrive home after a victory than going home following a defeat.”
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