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It was never going to be easy for tournament debutants Niger but they got to find out the hard way during their first match of the tournament when they lost 2-0 to Gabon.
To their credit, Niger did raise their game significantly in their second match against Tunisia with striker Moussa Maazou doing everything right except putting the ball in the back of the net, and in the end Issam Jemaa scored in the final minute to hand Tunisia a 2-1 win.
The Mena went back to their shell in their last match against Morocco and seemed to have one foot on the plane as they hardly threatened to score and eventually lost 1-0.
Overall, they will be disappointed ending the tournament with no points and only one goal scored, but they will take a lot of lessons from their first appearance atthe Africa Cup of Nations.
Niger made history in October 2011 when they secured a place in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations finals the first time they have ever qualified for any major international tournament.
Despite losing all of their away games, the last a 3-0 defeat against Egypt in Cairo, Mena were ranked top of Group G in the qualifiers ahead of both South Africa and Sierra Leone thanks to a superior head-to-head record against those two teams.
While Menas qualification may owe a lot to their rivals deficiencies particularly on South Africas part only the most cold-hearted critic would deny that they deserve it: Niger won all three of their home matches against much higher ranked opposition, all of whom had far greater resources to draw upon.
Credit then must go to coach Harouna Doula Gabde, who turned his band of relatively unknown players into a solid outfit, particularly at home.
The spine of Nigers national team is made up of goalkeeper Kassaly Daouda, defender Koffi Dankwa, midfielder Karim Lancina and striker Ouwo Maazou, who scored two goals in their qualifying campaign. If they can keep these players fit and in form, then they will be hopeful of a good showing in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Quite whether Niger will be able to keep up their giant-slaying antics in the finals of the AFCON remains to be seen, but even if they are eliminated after the first round it matters little: just by qualifying, Mena are already winners.
|2012 AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS TEAM RECORD|
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