Honorable Yet Cruel: Carthage Eagles Leave Heads Held High
Damn, this one is really really hard to digest. There are so many things to talk about it’s hard to know where to start. Many positives from this match but I can’t help but comment on these things that leave me truly gutted:
1. Although I had mentioned in the preview for this game that Lemerre and company had done just fine up to this point in this tournament, they really miscalculated for this one. It’s easy to be an armchair analyst and I understand that they cannot see the future but their game plan simply did not work. Sitting back and waiting for Cameroon resulted in us conceding two goals (the first one completely silly). Only the injury to our best defender, Karim Haggui, forced the defensive minded Felhi into the middle of the defense and brought on Saber Ben Fradj. This was the turning point of the match for us as it completely changed our style and gave us a more attacking impetus and flair. So Lemerre only made this decision because he was forced to by an injury, not out of his own tactical reading on the game. Imagine Haggui stayed in and we kept Felhi on the right? What would the final score be?
2. I usually try not to touch on this as it makes you come across bitter and a sore loser but it has to be said that the referee didn’t do us any favors. I don’t expect to get every call go our way but there were instances where he was harsh. Out of two calls for a penalty I’d have liked to get one and then not even one minute of injury time added at the end of extra time when we were still pressing for an equalizer and in a dangerous part of the field. Obviously, it’s not THE reason we lost this match I have to admit it didn’t help at all. I don’t get hung up on this point that much though because this is the nature of football. Calls have to go one way or another. The game is bigger than the referee and at the end of the day I respect the result anyway. It’s not like we’ve never had a ref do us favors…
3. It is clear after that one thing that hurt us big time is the mindset at the beginning of the game. We came in fearing a Cameroon side that is the weakest I have ever seen it. The prudence that we play with is unreal and you can tell that the players are shackled by this overbearing coach. How else do you explain that we only start playing our best football after we concede two goals in the first 35 minutes? It’s a strange policy of luck that Lemerre plays with. It can take you places sometimes but unfortunately for us, luck runs out and as the saying goes “the ball is round.” A few bad bounces cost us but you have to think about why were in those positions in the first place. After we took the goals and realized that we had nothing to lose and ran after the result there were only positives (besides that ill timed goal at the beginning of extra time). When we went after it we dominated this game, pure and simple.
4. Why did it take so long for Chermiti to come on? It made no sense. Sure Santos nearly scored in the first half but he was practically invisible in the second. Chermiti provoked danger as soon as he came on and he didn’t even get enough time to really get oriented in this match. He e may be one the fastest players I’ve ever seen and we take forever to employ him in a game against one of the slowest and lousiest defenses in this tournament. Why Jemaa came in before him I will never know. Bizarre decision.
I could go on with this but frankly I also want to focus on positives and congratulate the players that gave everything on the field. This was one of the most passionate and impressive performances we’ve seen from our side in quite a while and for that we can truly be proud:
1. Yassine Chikhaoui finally had his breakout performance that we were looking for and even managed to get his name on the score sheet in dramatic fashion. His equalizing goal brought me to tears (no joke).
2. Although his getting into the match was by accident, Saber Ben Fradj proved that he is the undisputed starter at right back. Some people will say they already knew this but before the African Cup others weren’t really convinced as he had yet to show that he could do for his country what he always did for Etoile. Consider that notion abolished. He was relentless and his hard work and determination were at the genesis of our equalizer.
3. Chaouki Ben Saada deserves praise for his wonderful curled free kick that gave us hope. He nearly got a second too in what would have been a repeat of his goal against South Africa. Too bad Kameni is one of the best goalkeepers in Africa… Regardless, I’ve gained so much respect for our Bastia boy. I hope that he makes it into a D1 team soon and that he continues on this upwards curve.
4. Tunisia showed that we are not a team with no style that relies on taking rhythm out of the match. We put all the rhythm into this match and even neutral onlookers will know that our Eagles have an incredible amount of talent, chemistry, and most importantly character. It’s not every team that can come back from a two goal deficit like that in those conditions. No question who was “indomitable” today.
5. The future looks bright for Tunisian football: 17 out of the 23 players in the list just participated in their first African Cup. When you think about the fact that Mouihbi, Dhaouadi, Akrout, Berradhia, Belaid and many others are waiting in the wings it is that much more uplifting. The talent we have at our disposal in addition to the experience these youngsters gained in Ghana makes us a team that will grow and potentially be one of the favorites for Angola 2010. This also gives us a serious shot of making a record fourth consecutive World Cup appearance and perhaps finally pass into the second round and beyond.
Now we are at a time of reckoning. Lemerre’s contract runs out in three months and his fate must be decided. Even though he undoubtedly brought something to our team initially when he took over, I think that the time has come to say goodbye. Actually as I’ve said before it’s overdue. If not for his mistakes and approach to the games then simply because too much has gone on and there’s been too much negativity towards him and from him to go back and try to rebuild bridges. We need a fresh face and new start before our qualifying campaign begins.
We have the players, we just need a leader to forge them into the type of dominant unit that we know we can be. Perhaps this isn’t the right time to be talking about this when it’s so soon after the loss but it’s the elephant in the room that is on everyone’s mind and I can’t help but point it out. Thing is, time is short and we must act quickly. The people in the federation who botched our preparations must be held accountable too. Ultimately though, I will look back on this team with fond memories as I’m sure that we have just witnessed the birth of a new generation of footballers that will scale new heights for us. They should leave Ghana with their heads held high as they played beautiful and fought their very hardest no matter how difficult the task seemed. That is all you can ask of them.
Merci Les Aigles de Carthage
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