Tunisia v Angola: Giresse hails 'boundless' ambition
Tunisia coach Alain Giresse said his players are prepared for the Egyptian heat and are full of desire to go all the way at the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 2004 as they ready themselves to face Angola in their opening match.
The Carthage Eagles get their finals campaign underway at Suez Stadium in Ismailia on Monday with every reason to be confident after beating World Cup finalists Croatia 2-1 in their penultimate warm-up game.
Giresse's men are favourites to top Group E, which also features Mali and tournament debutants Mauritania, and the former France midfielder said he is satisfied with his players' preparations.
"We hope to make an exceptional Cup of Nations," he told reporters.
"All players are motivated by the desire to negotiate all three matches and go further in this tournament.
"We put emphasis on the technical, physical and mental aspects of the players so that they are in top condition to start the tournament and ready to overcome any difficulties, such as the heat.
"The players are showing great determination and good morale. The experience that some players have is going to help the team to take up the challenge and make the difference."
Angola are making their eighth appearance at the tournament and will hope to progress beyond the group stage for the third time, as they previously did in 2008 and 2010.
Head coach Srdjan Vasiljevic admitted his players "surprised everyone" by qualifying for the tournament after failing to reach the last two editions, and Giresse insisted his side would not underestimate their opponents.
"The task will not be easy against Angola, who have very strong players," said Giresse, who is entering his fifth tournament having twice taken Mali to the finals as well as managing Gabon and Senegal, respectively, at AFCON.
"[They are] physical, but also endowed with great technical qualities that we must pay attention to," he added.
Tunisia midfielder Wajdi Kechrida, who plays his club football for Etoile Sportive du Sahel in his home country, said temperatures upwards of 30 degrees would not come as a surprise to his team-mates.
"Most players are used to the conditions in which this kind of African competition takes place, such as heat, so it will not be a handicap for us," Kechrida said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tunisia - Wahbi Khazri
Khazri's performances for Saint-Etienne in 2018-19 were a consistent positive in a turgid season for the Ligue 1 club, the 28-year-old forward scoring 13 goals in 32 domestic appearances before netting for Tunisia in their 2-0 friendly win over Iraq.
Angola - Gelson
Fleet-footed winger Gelson scored five Premeira Division goals in 19 appearances while on loan at Rio Ave in 2018-19 and is highly rated by parent club Sporting CP. His ability to get in behind Tunisia's defence will be the focus when Angola get opportunities to attack.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Tunisia and Angola's only previous encounter at the Africa Cup of Nations ended goalless, it was in the 2008 group stages.
- This is Tunisia's 19th AFCON participation, a tally only bettered by Egypt (24), Ivory Coast (23) and Ghana (22). Their only AFCON title dates back to 2004, as hosts; since then, they have not progressed further than the quarter-finals.
- Tunisia have only kept one clean sheet in their last 16 AFCON games, it was against Algeria in January 2013 (1-0).
- Angola have reached the knockout stages in only two of their previous seven AFCON appearances (2008, 2010 as hosts) and never further than the quarter-finals.