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MANZINI – A gallant second half performance by a new-look Sihlangu was not enough to foil visiting Tunisia yesterday.

Two unanswered first half goals by Esperance forward Taha Yassine Khnissi and France-based Sliti Naim kept the Tunisians in the driving seat in Group J, in the race to the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals to be staged in Cameroon next year.  The result, which saw Tunisia maintaining their 100 per cent record after beating Egypt by 1-0 in their opener, was not a true reflection of the game following a late surge by Anthony Mdluli’s men. A relatively inexperienced Sihlangu stood their ground against a highly-tactical Tunisia, who are ranked number one in Africa.

While Sihlangu remained with the point collected in the goalless draw away at Niger in June last year, they left the Mavuso Sports Centre with renewed vigour following criticism over team selection before yesterday’s clash. Tunisia showed their class from the word go with their high pressing game and restricted the hosts to defending. It took 17 minutes for the visitors to get off the mark, following a quick transition from defence to attack. Taha received a defence-splitting pass from Ali Maloul before firing home with a grass-cutter from close range.
It was one-way traffic by the half-hour mark, and a costly back pass by Sabelo ‘Sawa’ Gamedze was intercepted by Wahib Khazri. The latter set up Sliti, who guided the ball past a forest of bodies with a hard shot, eight minutes before the recess. Sihlangu still had no response, with Zweli ‘Mlilo’ Nxumalo’s shot from a free-kick, their only meaningful attempt of the opening period.

On resumption of play, Sihlangu came out of their shells, but survived a scare after Siboniso Ngwenya suffered a terrible injury following a collision, and was replaced by debutant Richard McCreesh. First to ask questions for Sihlangu was midfielder Mxolisi Mkhontfo, whose long drive was tipped to safety by the ever-alert Tunisia goalkeeper Ben Mustapha in the 56th minute. Tunisi still boasted better possession and stringed countless short passes to suck the energy out of the opponents. However, Sihlangu were compact, as they tightened their backdoor, but the opposition defence proved impenetrable. The about 300 spectators at the venue also started throwing their weight behind the team. Three minutes into added time, striker Phiwa Dlamini almost pulled a rabbit out of the hat with a sublime strike. 


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