By Brian Homewood
CAIRO, July 11 (Reuters) - Tunisia ended Madagascar’s remarkable Africa Cup of Nations run when they beat the rank outsiders 3-0 in their quarter-final on Thursday, notching their first win of the tournament in the process.
Madagascar, a country with little football tradition and who had not been expected to progress beyond the group stage on their first appearance at the finals, held out until the second half when they were undone by Ferjani Sassi’s deflected shot.
Youssef Msakni added a second on the hour for the Carthage Eagles, ranked 25th in the world against Madagascar’s 107th, and substitute Naim Sliti finished it off on the break in stoppage time to earn them a semi-final against Senegal on Sunday.
Tunisia had drawn their previous four matches at the tournament, beating Ghana on penalties in the last 16.
The Indian Ocean islanders had beaten Nigeria on their way to winning their group and then knocked out Democratic Republic of Congo on penalties in the previous round but it was always going to be different proposition against streetwise, if uninspiring, Tunisia.
“Today, the bar was too high, Tunisia were too strong for us, they were a very well-organised team. The result was logical,” said Madagascar coach Nicolas Dupuis, who also coaches French fourth-tier side Fleury.
“I am very proud of the players and what they have done at this tournament, it’s exceptional. I take off my hat to them.”
Despite having more possession, Tunisia were let down by the final pass early on while Madagascar were more incisive on the occasions they went forward.
Tunisia began to take control towards halftime, however, and Madagascar goalkeeper Melvin Adrien twice had to dive at the feet of the marauding Tunisian forwards and then parried Wahbi Khazri’s curling free kick around the post.
He was then called into action again to save Ghaylen Chaalali’s low drive from 25 metres.
Khazri had a goal disallowed for offside at the start of the second half but it was not long before Tunisia went ahead, although it was very tough on Madagascar.
Sassi’s shot in the 52nd minute appeared to offer no real threat to Adrien until it took a wicked deflection off Thomas Fontaine to leave the hapless goalkeeper completely wrong-footed.
Eight minutes later, Tunisia struck again. Adrien saved Khazri’s shot but was powerless when Msakni collected the rebound, slipped past a defender and planted the ball in the bottom corner.
After that, Tunisia decided to sit back on their lead and Madagascar never looked like mounting a fight back.
Although they kept pushing forward, their remarkable campaign ended with something of a whimper with Sliti’s breakaway goal in stoppage time rubbing salt into the wounds. (Writing by Brian Homewood Editing by Christian Radnedge)