Leekens plays down Tunisian strength

Tunisia coach George Leekens has played down the strength of his team ahead of an Africa Cup of Nations showdown with fellow former champions Zambia in Equatorial Guinea on Thursday.

The Carthage Eagles were ranked the second best African national team behind neighbours Algeria by FIFA this month.

That placing puts them five spots above nearest Group B rivals Cape Verde, nine ahead of Zambia and 11 above the Democratic Republic of Congo.

And a leading British bookmaker has made the North Africans 9-1 fourth favourites to go all the way and win the February 8 final.

But far from seeing his Eagles as strong title candidates, Belgian Leekens surprised reporters in northeastern town Ebebiyin by saying Tunisia were not even the group favourites.

This view contrasts with the popular pre-tournament media belief that Cape Verde, DR Congo and Zambia would fight for second spot behind Tunisia.

Leekens, twice manager of Belgium and briefly coach of Algeria, said: "At this stage every team in the group is the favourite to finish on top.

"Tunisia are not the favourites to win the group. We have never said we are going to top the final standings."

His caution stems partly from a less-than-impressive 1-1 opening draw with Cape Verde on Sunday.

Mohamed Moncer gave the 2004 champions a second-half lead only for Heldon to level from a penalty he created soon after.

"We will be more focused for our next two games," promised Leekens, referring to fixtures against the Zambians and the Congolese.

He blamed late injury-induced squad changes which saw Fakhreddine Ben Youssef and Saber Khalifa replaced by Ahmed Akaichi and Edem Rjaibi for the moderate performance.

"We used two newcomers against Cape Verde and this upset our rhythm. Opening group games are always difficult because you do not know how your opponents play."


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