Two goals within a minute early in the first half propelled debutants Central Africa Republic (CAR) to the quarter finals of the Total Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations after a hard earned 2-1 victory over Tunisia’s young Carthage Eagles at the Olympic Stadium in Nouakchott on Sunday.
The result saw CAR finish second in Group B with four points, same like Tunisia who came third on head to head basis.
Tunisia however squeezed through into the last eight as they are assured of finishing as one of the best two third placed teams.
Alfred Gombe Fei and skipper Raphael Marc Yapende scored within a minute with Tunisia’s consolation coming off the spot from captain Chiheb Labidi.
A frantic opening half saw three goals scored within the opening 25 minutes, two of them from the Central Africa Republic coming a minute between each other.
CAR got their tails up in the fifth minute of the game when Gombei Fei used his lanky legs to pluck Isaac Ngoma’s cross off Ramzi Ferjani inside the box before firing a ferocious volley into the bottom right.
Immediately after the restart, CAR won back possession and turned defense into attack with left back Yapende firing an unstoppable rocket past Tunisian keeper Elias Imed Damergy.
The two goals came just a few minutes after CAR cleared off the line when Adam Karim Benlamine’s flicked in a header off a Chiheb Labidi corner.
Tunisia were stunned after conceding twice in quick succession and they sought to arrest the situation early. Mootez Zaddem tried his luck with a rifled shot from distance which flew over as they piled in the pressure.
They halved the deficit in the 23rd minute from the penalty spot after Hassan Ayari was brought down inside the box by Angelo Galabazi. Skipper Labidi stepped up to send the CAR keeper the wrong way and bring his team back to life.
CAR should have however restored their two goal lead two minutes on the turn when Yapende swung in an inviting cross from the left, but both Henoc Damona and goal scorer Gombe Fei mis-controlled the ball inside the box with the keeper collecting.
Tunisia had a close chance three minutes to the break but Nabil Makni’s shot was saved by the keeper at his near post.
In the second half, the North Africans started by making changes to their personnel, Abdallah Amri and Zied Berrima coming on for Ferjani and Makni.
Tunisia forced CAR to play on the backfoot and continued to create chances. Ayari had a shot from inside the box go agonizingly wide while Benlamine had an effort from a corner parried away by the keeper.
Fourteen minutes from time, they came closeagain but were denied by an athletic save from Emmanuel Pennel Takos who swung to his left to keep away a glancing header from Hamdi Abidi off Mohamed Amin Ben Zghada’s swinging delivery.
CAR managed the clock and defended with caution, seeing off the result to progress to the last eight.
What they said:
Man of the match, Central Africa Republic defender Raphael Marc Yapende
Personally, I am very happy with this result and more so to score one of the goals and be named man of the match. It is a very happy day for us as a team. We were very confident before the match and we knew we could beat Tunisia.
We were determined to do it to earn a chance of qualification. This victory presents to us a very strong motivation as we progress in the tournament and it makes us believe that we can qualify out of the quarter finals as well.
Central Africa Republic coach Sebastien Ngato
This is our first time to participate in the tournament and I am really pleased that we won and qualified for the quarter finals. I know tonight that in our country people are celebrating on the streets and enjoying this victory.
We came up against a very tough Tunisia side who played good football and we won. We made some changes from the last match and we got a result today. I am happy for the team.
Tunisia coach Maher Kanzari
I want to congratulate CAR for their victory today and qualification. We met a very strong and well organized team which was very physically fit. We conceded two goals early in the match and it because very hard for us to come back, but that’s football.