Best African National Teams of the 2000s: #6

In 6th place of Michael McDuffie’s Top 10 African National Teams of the 2000s is Tunisia’s 2004 AFCON side.

AFCON 2004 was a watershed moment for Tunisia’s national team. French manager Roger Lemerre, who led his home country to victory at EURO 2000, was sacked after a disappointing 2002 World Cup, and subsequently appointed manager of Tunisia. Impressive friendly and qualifying results in the buildup to AFCON 2004 made Lemerre’s team a favorite going into the tournament they were set to host. 

Tunisia may not have had the international star power of many of the other tournament winners of the decade, with half of the squad playing their club football in their home country, but the rising momentum from past successes, along with the further experience and success, brought by Lemerre, contributed to Tunisia’s status as a formidable side.

Wins against Rwanda and DR Congo and a 1-1 draw against Guinea put Tunisia through Group A as group winners. A goal from midfielder Jawhar Mnari narrowly pushed Tunisia past Cameroon 1-0. The semifinals also posed no easy task, when it took a penalty kick goal from defender Khaled Badra in the 82nd minute to cancel out a goal from Nigeria’s Jay-Jay Okocha and send the match to penalties after a scoreless extra time period. Tunisia went a perfect five for five on penalties, defeating Nigeria 5-3 and advancing to the final for only the second time since 1965.

In the final, Tunisia faced Morocco, making for the first AFCON final contested by two North African teams. In front of a home crowd of 65,000, Tunisia saw off Morocco 2-1 with the winning goal coming from striker Ziad Jaziri early in the second half. The victory gave Tunisia their first AFCON title and only to date. It also spawned the moniker still used for the team today, the Eagles of Carthage. The victory also qualified Tunisia for the 2005 Confederations Cup, but they failed to replicate the same magic, crashing out in the group stage.