Tunisia must overcome the loss of two key attacking threats as they begin their Africa Cup of Nations Group B campaign against Cape Verde in the remote outpost of Ebebiyin on Sunday.
The Carthage Eagles, Africa’s best team in the FIFA rankings behind Algeria, have been tipped to do well at this year’s Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea but this week saw forwards Saber Khalifa and Fakhreddine Ben Youssef withdraw from the finals due to injury.
Both were hurt in last week’s 1-1 friendly draw with Algeria, and there will now be more pressure on Bordeaux winger Wahbi Khazri to lead the 2004 continental champions after he starred in qualifying.
The injuries have contributed to a difficult week which has also seen Tunisia endure problems with their accommodation in Equatorial Guinea.
“We have seen some strange things since arriving at our hotel, like a power cut that meant we had to eat our dinner under candlelight,” experienced Belgian coach Georges Leekens told Tunisian media.
“It is a very sad situation and it has upset the players’ concentration just before an important competition like the CAN.
“Our objective is to build on the progress we have already made. The players are determined and confident that they can stand up to the challenge.”
Meanwhile, Rui Aguas, the Portuguese coach of Cape Verde, said the Blue Sharks are determined to match their famous run to the quarter-finals in South Africa two years ago.
“The other three teams are strong and more experienced, but we will do our best to shine and getting through the group stage has to be an objective,” said Aguas.
It is not just Tunisia who have endured a difficult build-up to the start of the competition, with Zambia seeing their arrival in Equatorial Guinea delayed until Friday, barely 48 hours before their opening game.
That means they have little time to acclimatise in Ebebiyin, the small town where the borders of Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and Gabon converge.
“I just hope we have enough rest and we just have to stay focused,” Zambia’s Nathan Sinkala said prior to the team’s departure.
Zambia were crowned continental champions after a dramatic penalty shoot-out win against the Ivory Coast in the final in Libreville in 2012, the last time Equatorial Guinea staged matches at the competition.
However, the Chipolopolo were eliminated in the group stage in South Africa a year later after drawing all three matches, so they will be determined to get off to a strong start against the Leopards.
With charismatic coach Herve Renard having long since departed, Zambia will be led by Honour Janza, a former assistant of the Frenchman.
Coached by Florent Ibenge, DR Congo only qualified for the finals as the best third-placed team, although they were in a group containing Ivory Coast and Cameroon, and can call on Premier League quality in skipper Youssouf Mulumbu and winger Yannick Bolasie.