Voila les rois: the 24th African Nations Cup came to a gripping conclusion on 14 February with the hosts, Tunisia, writing a new name on the trophy. After an absorbing all-Arab final with Morocco, the hosts finished 2-1 winners at a packed Rades stadium in Tunis to trigger a massive national celebration. Peter Law reports.

Author:Law, Peter

After a three-week tournament of 32 games and 88 goals, Tunisia prevailed in a tournament packed full of drama and incidents. In a competition that was a huge improvement on Mali 2002, the spills and thrills were spread out across the whole competition, with just a few bones of contention.


Firstly, the hosts' organisation was sometimes found wanting, as with getting national anthems wrong, or the telephone services down during the semi-final with Nigeria, and seeing some isolated scenes of hooliganism.

The tournament had been set up to maximise home advantage for Roger Lemerre's side, and The Times (of London) talked of the hosts "shameless gamesmanship" that was sometimes used, particularly when they were ahead.

Some dubious defensive tactics were also deployed by Tunisia, particularly at opposition set-pieces, with no referee seemingly noticing the excessive holding and pulling of shirts that was blatantly obvious.

An expectant crowd had gathered at Rades, and they were not disappointed by an engaging final, the first all-Arab affair in the competition's history. Tunisia began brightly, with the Brazilian-turned-Tunisian fullback Clayton testing the Moroccan keeper Fouhami with a speculative early shot. Within minutes, the hosts went ahead, poor defending on a set-piece leaving the striker Silva dos Santos (another Brazilian-turned-Tunisian) to score from a well-placed free header.

For a spell, the Moroccans, who had proven themselves the most organised outfit at the finals, wobbled but managed to survive. Seven minutes from the break, a diving header from Mokhtari restored parity between the sides, before Tunisia missed probably the best chance of the match as skipper Bouazizi headed over the bar from a yard out in front of an empty net.

Level at half time, after a positive first half, a good final was ultimately decided by a cheap defensive howler early in the second half. Fouhami, who had been a steady keeper for Morocco throughout the finals, spilled a Clayton cross to the feet of Jaziri. Given such a tantalising invitation, the Tunisian made no mistake with the finish. While chances came and went for both sides, there would be no shifting Tunisia from their date with destiny. The final ended 2-1 to Tunisia, as the prospect of a third straight final being decided on penalties faded away.

"Not the most dazzling team, but they grew with every game," was one observer's view of the new winners, while one English...

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