African Nations Cup: Tunisia's success can strengthen north African World Cup hopes

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Tunisia hope their triumph in the African Cup of Nations final will boost their chances of co-hosting the 2010 World Cup, even though Morocco and South Africa remain favourites.

Tunisia hope their triumph in the African Cup of Nations final will boost their chances of co-hosting the 2010 World Cup, even though Morocco and South Africa remain favourites.

The Tunisians, coached by the Frenchman Roger Lemerre, dominated throughout to defeat Morocco 2-1 in Saturday's first ever all north African final of the tournament. Lemerre, who led France to World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 victory, has moulded a young Tunisian side into a cohesive and versatile force.

The final came at the end of a Nations Cup that was marked by a resurgence of the game in north Africa. Tunisia won for the first time ever and Morocco reached the final stage for the first time since the 1976 tournament, which they won. Even unfancied Algeria reached the quarter-finals.

But officials from sub-Saharan teams complained of a mood of hostility, verging on racism. "This feels like a Cup of Nations that is being played outside Africa,'' said one official from Mali, who came fourth. Morocco's coach, Badou Zaki, stoked the fires after the final, "Above all, this Nations Cup was a triumph for Arab football," he said.

Despite fine stadiums and high quality pitches, fans stayed away from matches involving sub-Saharan teams. Poor attendances and accusations of an underlying mood of hostility across the Sahara will not favour the Tunisia-Libya bid for 2010 World Cup, which is due to be awarded to Africa.

Before this tournament, South Africa - who have the best facilities - looked favourites to win the Fifa ballot, which takes place in Zurich in May. But Morocco lobbied hard here and their appearance in the final will have helped. South Africa, however, showed organisational weaknesses and went out in the first round. The country's football federation also sacked coach Ephraim "Shakes" Mashaba a week before their first match. Egypt, also a candidate for 2010, did not make it past the group stages.

In the run up to the competition, which takes place every two years, national teams were forced to fight a battle of wills with European clubs reluctant to release their players. The Bolton Wanderers and Nigeria captainJay-Jay Okocha was among those who missed the preparation camp in a bid to keep both sides happy. "A lot of European clubs are too tough on their African players,"said Okocha, who was voted best player in the tournament and, with Tottenham's Freddie Kanouté, was also one of its top scorers. "They don't complain when their European internationals are called up. But with Africans they put you in a situation whereby if you go you lose your place.

"I made a great effort and joined late. It was my way of showing Bolton that I have them in my heart. Before I signed, Bolton were aware that I am a Nigerian international.'' English clubs lost about 20 players to the competition. French clubs were worse hit with Lens alone losing six players.

The solution, according to Okocha, is for playing calendars to be adjusted. His manager at Bolton, Sam Allardyce, recently floated the idea of a Premiership break during the Nations Cup. Even the Fifa chief executive, Sepp Blatter, has spoken out for the African teams. But this year at its conference here, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) failed to make a firm stand on the issue.

Despite mixed feelings about the Arab tone of this African Cup of Nations, the teams provided their usual share of eccentricities and momentous moments.

Rwanda was the most impressive newcomer and left the tournament only after the political triumph of a 1-0 victory over their neighbouring regional powerhouse, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Nigeria may have done better had coach Christian Chukwu not sent three players home - Chelsea's Celestine Babayaro, Schalke 04's Victor Agali and Portsmouth's Yakubu Aiyegbeni - for breaking curfew following a 1-0 defeat by Morocco.

And Cameroon, along with their sponsors Puma, defied CAF and played in a one-piece kit."I don't like it because your bits shake about,'' Cameroon striker Patrick Mboma added.

Goals: Santos (5) 1-0; Mokhtari (38) 1-1; Jaziri (52) 2-1.

Tunisia: Boumnijel; Hagui, Jaidi, Trabelsi, Clayton, Nafti (Mnari, 46), Benachour (Ghodhbane, 57), Bouazizi, Chedli, Jaziri (Mhadhebi, 71), Santos.

Morocco: Fouhami; Roumani (Zairi, 74), Ouaddou, El Karkouri, Naybet, Regragui, Kaissi, Safri (Yaacoubi, 64), Hadji (Baha, 87), Chammakh, Mokhtari.

Referee: Falla Ndoye (Senegal).

Attendance: 55,000.

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