Tunisia steal show with rotating octopus formation

Tunisia 2 Rwanda 1

Conrad Leach
Sunday 25 January 2004 01:00

Everyone remembers the last time Roger Lemerre took charge of a team for an opening game. At least every Frenchman does, and wishes he did not. Lemerre, now in charge of Tunisia, was manager of France when they lost the first game of the 2002 World Cup to Senegal 1-0.

He has had to start afresh with the north Africans, who were as keen as Lemerre to erase their own unhappy past in the African Nations' Cup. Ten years ago they hosted this tournament and lost, feebly, 2-0 to Mali, and that too signalled their early exit. Despite Joao Elias's equaliser the number of photographers massed behind the Rwandan goal would have made David Beckham blush, such was the way this encounter was expected to go.

But if they did not get what they wanted during the match then they would have filled their boots during the opening ceremony. Nothing if not ambitious, the hosts went for recreating such minor undertakings as the creation of the world and the birth of man, backed by a soundtrack that was possibly discarded in the early stages of production for 2001: A Space Odyssey as too futuristic.

If that was not enough there was also a float that could only be described as a rotating 12-legged octopus - with flowers. Such things are not normally seen on the sets of anything but old Flash Gordon episodes, let alone the streets of Tunis. As the organisers threw the kitchen sink at their hour-long extravaganza, in the country where Hannibal was born, they missed a trick by failing to include any elephants.

Minus pachyderms, they still produced a pièce de résistance to cap it all off. The final touch was an elevating Carthaginian boat that hung in the air and then floated off into the cold night sky, over the Mediterranean and off to who knows where. Possibly a rendezvous with that other lost craft Beagle Two, although the worrying thought occurred that it might come crashing down mid-way through the second half.

Following that was always going to be hard, but hosting the 24th Nations Cup did not seem to deter Tunisia, who played some fluent, attacking and quick football. They did not seem to miss their star right-back, Hatem Trabelsi, who was on the bench. Coveted by Man-chester United last summer, the Ajax defender is now set to join Chelsea this summer.

They proved their initial superiority with 27 minutes gone, as Jaziri scored to delight the highly charged 60,000 crowd, who had filled this stadium hours before the start. From a quick free-kick move the striker drilled his shot into the net from eight yards out.

This was Rwanda's debut in the Nations Cup, but they refused to be overawed, and 13 minutes before the break Elias wrote his name into the tournament's history books with a delightful free-kick from 20 yards out. Tunisia must have wished they had some of those elephants after all and preferably in the wall.

Dos Santos scored Tunisia's second of the match when he headed home from all of one yard out from a 57th-minute free-kick for a foul that brought Abdul Sibomana a red card.

Tunisia 2
Jaziri 27, Santos 57

Rwanda 1
Elias 32

Half-time: 1-1

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