Tunisia out to seal top spot

Tunisia out to seal top spot
Tunisia players Mohamed Ben Amor (R) and Bassem Srarfi (L) during a training session at Mordovia Arena in Saransk, Russia, 27 June 2018. Tunisia will face Panama in the FIFA World Cup 2018 group G preliminary round soccer match at Mordovia Arena in Saransk, Russia on 28 June 2018. EPA/Rungroj Yongrit

by Graeme Jackson

Tuesday Nov 13, 2018. 10:00

Tunisia will look to seal top spot in Group J of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers when they take on hosts Egypt at the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria on Friday, 16 November 2018, kick-off at 18h00 CAT.

This North African derby is one of the high-profile fixtures in matchday five of the group stage – despite there being relatively little at stake for either team.

This is because Tunisia (12 points from four matches) and Egypt (nine points from four matches) are both mathematically guaranteed to finish in the top two of Group J and have therefore already secured qualification for Cameroon 2019.

Nonetheless, both the Pharaohs and the Carthage Eagles will be keen for a strong showing as they begin gearing up for the AFCON finals in just over six months’ time.

Tunisia come into the clash in a remarkable situation. They won both home and away against Niger in October’s back-to-back matches, yet bizarrely gave manager Faouzi Benzarti the axe mere days later.

Co-caretaker coaches Mourad Okbi and Maher Kanzari will be in charge of this clash, and the squad they named last week saw the return of midfielder Ferjani Sassi, while Ahly’s Ali Maaloul was left out due to a groin injury. The Cartage Eagles need only avoid defeat to secure first place.

Egypt manager Javier Aguirre has stuck with the tried and tested for this clash, though the omission of locally-based stars Walid Soliman and Mahmoud Alaa was somewhat of a surprise.

The rivalry between the teams runs deep and the Egyptians will be looking for revenge – both for the 1-0 defeat they suffered at the hands of Tunisia in the first matchday back in June 2017, as well as (to some degree) the recent CAF Champions League final which saw Esperance de Tunis defeat Cairo giants Al Ahly 4-3 on aggregate.

South African referee Victor Gomes will take charge of the match in Alexandria, while the other Group J clash between eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) and Niger will be held in Manzini on November 18.

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