No North African side in the last eight

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty ImagesSofiane Feghouli and Algeria will not be in the African Nations' Cup knockout round, an unfortunate circumstance that the other North African countries share as well.

Didier Drogba scored his first goal of the African Nations' Cup to ensure Ivory Coast go into the quarterfinals on an unbeaten run in the competition. Their opponents in that match, Nigeria, and their place in the group was already decided but they surged back anyways from 2-0 down to draw level with Algeria.

The group's bottom-feeders left with their respect intact. Although Algeria failed to record a single win in the competition, similar to their 2010 World Cup, the much-talked about Sofiane Feghouli made his impact on the competition with a goal through a penalty and assist for Hilal Soudini. But Algeria's disappointment was compounded with Tunisia's exit which means that no North African team will play the quarter-finals of the 2013 ANC.

- Match report: Algeria 2-2 Ivory Coast
- Match report: Togo 1-1 Tunisia
Togo claimed the final spot with a draw against a fighting Tunisian side. Serge Gakpe gave them the lead in the 13th minute, after finding himself on the end of an Emmanuel Adebayor cross. Tunisia equalized with a penalty and could have gone ahead when they were awarded a second point-kick but Khaled Moelhi hit the post.

Tunisia's first round exit taints what has been a largely consistent run for them in continental championships and they will be disappointed by that. Since 1996, ten tournaments ago, Tunisia have made it to the knockouts seven times. That includes one victory (2004), one runners-up spot (1996), one fourth place finish (2000) and four quarterfinal appearances.

In 2004, the ANC was an all North African affair with Tunisia beating Morocco at home. In the years before and after that, Egypt have been the flag-bearers for North African football. Having won a record seven times, their dominance of the continent dates back to its beginnings and was around even recently when they won the unprecedented treble in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

But they have not been the only ones. In 2008, Tunisia appeared in the quarters, in 2010 Algeria played against Egypt in the semi-finals and last year Tunisia were last eight participants again. Even this time they looked the best of the North African sides and certainly remained the most likely to make it through but they did not.

Without Issam Jemaa, their star forward, the task was made more difficult but perhaps there is a wider problem affecting North African football. It's staring us in the face, of course. The Arab Spring and revolutions across the board have had a disruptive effect from Tripoli to Tunis and it has not spared football.

It's most pronounced influence has been in Egypt, where football and politics are not separate at all. The Al-Ahly Ultras were instrumental in the Hosni Mubarak's fall and have had a deciding say on the non-resumption of the football league.

Africa's most successful footballing country has been witness to tragedy recently, be it the disaster at Port Said last February or the subsequent protests against the death sentences meted out to those who have been held responsible which only resulted in more lives lost.

With football really a case of life or death there, on-field activities have rightly taken a backseat. Egypt failed to qualify for the last two editions of the ANC and lost a string of friendlies recently. The lack of domestic game time must have had something to do with that. Although Egypt's situation has yet to reach normality, they remain on track to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

Tunisia also sit in pole position in their group for the World Cup and on current evidence, they would not be a bad bet to make it through. Football has not had the same marriage with politics in that country. The Arab Spring bloomed in Tunisia and it was the country that first protested against its leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

There were a few protests against Ben Ali at football matches, such as at the Tunisian Cup final in 2005 when Ben Ali's son had to leave the game prematurely. Ben Ali controlled the Tunisian Football Federation and under his rule, there were accusations of government interference and corruption. The major issues were ones of power, such as who would become president of the FA.

As the last scents of the Jasmine Revolution drifted through the country, the Tunisian national team qualified for the 2012 AFCON and one of the biggest clubs, Club Africain democratically appointed its president. Tunisia now have a Footballers' Union. Theirs is the newest on the continent and has only just begun making contacts with footballers and getting itself off the ground. These are all steps in the right direction which point to the hope that when life normalises in North Africa, the football will excel.

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