From Petros Kausiyo in KHARTOUM, Sudan
ANGOLAN coach Lito has insisted that his surprise packages will be the underdogs when they meet North African giants Tunisia in an African Nations Championships final at the El Merreikh stadium tonight (kick-off 7.30pm Zimbabwean time).
Despite the two teams having fought a 0-0 draw when they met in a Group D in Port Sudan, former Palancas Negras player Lito installed the Carthage Eagles as favourites on the basis “of the experience most of their players have with international football”.
Lito noted that a host of Tunisian players ply their trade with such top clubs like Esperance, Club Africain, Etoile Shale and CS Sfaxien and had over the years been exposed to the tough conditions of the continental game on a regular basis. But the Angolan coach was also quick to point out that his charges were upbeat about their chances and believe they could put the icing to more than two months of hard work in preparation for the CHAN tournament.
Angola highlighted the seriousness with which they were treating their maiden appearance at the CHAN tournament by sending their homegrown players for a two-week training stint in Brazil.
They have now been rewarded for their industry with a place in the second CHAN final, a feat that Lito said had exceed their expectations but was not stopping them from taking aim at the trophy.
The youthful coach also maintained that he was feeling calm before the showdown with the Carthage Eagles but added that he was expecting a tough final against the North Africans.
Lito said his players were also relishing the prospect of making history by becoming the CHAN winners after inaugural champions Democratic Republic of Congo who beat Ghana 2-0 in the 2009 final in Cote d’Ivoire.
“We came here as outsiders, we remain outsiders but we are ready for Tunisia. Of course it has been tough because the boys have had to play a game every two days.
“We are not surprised to be in the final because we work hard everyday and I have told my boys that if we work hard we have the chance to beat Tunisia in that one final match and take the cup.
“Tunisia is a great team with a great coach and more match experience, their players are very experienced,” Lito said.
“If we win I will be calm, I have more problems when I don’t win because I find it hard to take defeat. I am confident in my work, confident in my players but we are underdogs,” Lito said.
The coach was also still fretting over a number of injuries to hit his camp with midfielders Regio Zalata and striker Pedro Pinto major doubts for the game.
As tempers flared on the pitch in their game against the hosts Zalata fell awkwardly on his shoulder having been a victim of a kung-fu style kick from Sudan goalkeeper Baha Eldin, who however, escaped punishment from the referee, much to the chagrin of Lito.
Angola who have buoyed by the news that more than 100 supports will arrive from Luanda in time for tonight’s match, also believe they have charmed the Sudanese fans despite knocking out the hosts in Tuesday’s semi-final.
According to Alfredo Antonio, the deputy chairperson of Santos Bikuku Organisations (OSB), the extra supporters will travel to Khartoum on match day (Friday) and will return on the same day, due to difficulties of finding accommodation in hotels in the Sudanese capital.
Authorities in Luanda have been busy putting together travelling arrangements and the word has been sent out for interested supporters’ parties.
“At the moment, the demand for the services is high and we think by Thursday we will have the all 160 places filled up”, said Antonio.
Antonio said the Palancas Negras into the final had boosted the spirit of unity and cohesion among their supporters back home.
Both Angola and Tunisia needed penalty shoot-out wins to progress from their semi-final clashes against Sudan and Algeria. While Lito thinks of his team as underdogs, confident Tunisia believe they will lift in the title with Carthage Eagles assistant coach Khenfir Nazir declaring they had arrived in Sudan to take the cup.
Cathrage Eagles striker Slama Gasdaoui is joint top scorer on three goals with South Africas’ Myron Shongwe, and Hilal Soudani of Algeria but the Tunisian will be hoping to win the Golden Boot by leading his team to glory.
“We are happy to be in the final because we arrived in Sudan to win the title.
“In the build-up to the tournament, we encountered a lot of problems due to political instability at the time and did not have the best of preparations.
“We want to win the trophy to bring joy to the people of Tunisia,” Nizar said.
“We have been preparing match after match and now that we are in the final, we have one objective – going home with the trophy. We want to win the trophy to bring joy to the people of Tunisia.
“Angola is a good team and we played against them in our first match at the tournament. But the final will be a different 90 minutes of action. I feel Tunisia has a bigger chance to win the title.
“Everybody is ready and we are looking forward to the game. All the players are available and we will maintain the team from previous games and may be make only one or two changes,” Nizar said.
After both semi-finals fizzled into draws and had to be decided by penalties, fans will be hoping that Angola and Tunisia play a more open game that will end in regulation time.
Sudan and Algeria will get today’s programme underway this afternoon with a third-place play-off at the same venue.