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Last Updated: Friday, 6 February, 2004, 14:13 GMT
New boys fare well
By Richard Fleming
BBC Sport, Tunis

Zimbabwe's Peter Ndlovu
Ndlovu was a constant threat for Zimbabwe

They came, saw and almost conquered!

That is the verdict on the three countries that made their first ever appearance in the African Cup of Nations finals in Tunisia.

Ten years ago, Rwanda was torn apart in unprecedented bloodshed, with close to a million people dying in a genocidal war.

But their football team have lifted spirits with some sparkling performances in Tunisia.

The Amavubi, meaning Wasps, certainly had a sting in their collective tail.

Football observers had forecast a tough baptism for the central Africans in the opening match of the tournament against hosts Tunisia amid the hostile atmosphere of the newly-built Rades Stadium.

They came up against a Tunisian side out to correct some historical slips on home ground.

But the Rwandans made it a contest of equals, where the best, and not simply the presumed best, wins.

A curling free-kick, not the kind expected of minnows such as Rwanda, suprisingly cancelled a Tunisian lead as the opening match began to look like the siege the home side had worked hard to avoid.

RWANDA'S NEAR MISS
Rwanda caoch Ratomir Dujkovic
Tunisia W2 D1 L0 Pts7 GD+4
Guinea W1 D2 L0 Pts5 GD+1
Rwanda W1 D1 L1 Pts4 GD0
DR Congo W0 D0 L3 Pts0 GD-5

An eventual 2-1 win was hard-earned for Tunisia's Carthage Eagles.

The Amavubi, inspired by the narrow loss and fired on by the fierce rhetoric of their Serbian-born coach Ratomir Dujkovic, adopted a grander scheme in their next two matches in the hope of snatching a quarter-final place.

A 1-1 draw with Guinea and a crucial win over DR Congo nearly saw them through.

It was only Titi Camara's late equaliser for Guinea in their final match against Tunisia that swung things in the Guineans' favour.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe lived up to the reputation of their nickname - the Warriors.

They took the battle to Egypt's Pharaohs in their opening game and almost registered a famous draw.

But in the end, their inexperience intervened as a naive defensive blunder gifted the formerly dreaded Pharaohs an undeserved win.

Then Zimbabwe's match against Cameroon 'made the Indomitable Lions look like kittens', as one commentator suggested.

Captain Peter Ndlovu rose majestically in the Lions' penalty box to put the Warriors ahead early on in the match to send the defending champions back to the drawing board.

The match may have ended 5-3 in Cameroon's favour, but the scoreline reflected what was one of the most dramatic matches in the tournament.

Benin's Oumar Tchmogo
Tchmogo gave Benin some European experience
For their efforts, Zimbabwe won the admiration of Jones Attuquayefio, the coach of Benin - who were the other of the three newcomers.

"I admired the way they played and the enthusiasm of the players," the Ghanaian coach said.

"At least they were able to get a good result in the last match (a 2-1 win over Algeria) and that is the true spirit of the team."

Benin had to wait for their last match to make an impression - and it came against one of the best nations in the tournament.

So losing by just two goals to one against Nigeria was a more than honourable exit for tiny Benin.

"If you look in the past two years, Benin has played no significant football because we were suspended," Attuquayefio said.

" We have only recently got started in Benin but we played some exciting football."





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