With his team facing a one goal deficit Hamdi Harbaoui’s second-half introduction changed the profile of his team’s 2014 World Cup qualifier as the newly recruited striker created the equaliser and provided the go-ahead finish against Equatorial Guinea at the Mustapha Ben Jannet stadium in Monastir.
Despite not having played a competitive match together since hosting the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, Equatorial Guinea began confidently, passing the ball accurately and pressuring the Tunisians into many mistakes in midfield. Facing a more physical and determined outfit, the fluidity that the Carthage Eagles displayed in a 5-1 thumping of Rwanda a week earlier was clearly disrupted.
Despite the lack of harmony in midfield, the locals had an early opportunity to score the opener after a failed clearance from a Nzalang Nacional defender but Anis Ben Hatira fluffed the chance. Slowly, the Tunisians began to improve their passing but it was the visitors who looked more dangerous on the few times they ventured forward.
The match took a sudden turn for the worst for the north Africans in minute 33 when the match official ruled that Sabeur Khelifa’s goal was preceded by a handball. Equatorial Guinea restarted play quickly and Iban “Randy” Iyanga’s deflected shot rolled into Aymen Mathlouthi’s goal to the dismay of the Monastir crowd.
Tunisia went forward desperately to search for a swift reply but Gilson Paulo’s men managed to bend without breaking at the back despite the best efforts of Khelifa, Majdi Traoui, and Jemaa. With that, the first half ended in favour of the visitors.
Sami Trabelsi began the second half by replacing a midfielder, Wissem Ben Yahia, with the hero of the Rwanda friendly, Harbaoui. The decision proved to be masterstroke as it only took five minutes for the Lokeren striker to be involved in Jemaa’s equaliser and just a minute after that for him to score the go-ahead goal after some excellent service from Ben Hatira.
Harbaoui continued to impress, coming close to doubling Tunisia’s advantage on 60 minutes with an chest control between two defenders and a swivel strike that went just wide of the target. On the other end, Randy replied with a long distance hit that forced a difficult save from Mathlouthi.
Jemaa should have had his second of the game on 73 minutes but hesitated too long when he was one on one with the Equatorial Guinean goalkeeper, allowing a defender to clear the ball. The France-based forward then deprived Harbaoui of his second as well, intercepting a Khalil Chammam cross instead of letting the ball continue on its trajectory towards his teammate.
Equatorial Guinea struggled for the majority of the second half, losing a bit of the physical edge that powered them through the first half. Confirmation of Tunisia’s superiority in the second period came on in the closing stages of the match when substitute Chadi Hammami scored the insurance goal to assure Tunisia of a positive start to 2014 World Cup qualifying before their trip to Cape Verdes next week.