North African teams disappoint again
RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) -North African teams struggled for the second straight time at the African Cup of Nations, this time failing to advance past the group stage as western teams continued their dominance.
Western African teams earned seven of the eight quarterfinal spots, with host South Africa the only outsider in the second round this weekend.
The North Africans also had difficulties a year ago in the tournament played in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, with Tunisia the only team to reach the quarterfinals then.
Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi, of Tunisian background, said he didn't expect the northern teams to disappoint.
"It's a surprise that in the second round there will be no North African team,'' Lamouchi said. "You have Tunisia not making it through, and Morocco, which also had a very good team and didn't qualify.''
Algeria was the third North African team in this year's tournament and it also failed to progress.
The quarterfinals are Burkina Faso vs. Togo, Ivory Coast vs. Nigeria, Ghana vs. Cape Verde and South Africa vs. Mali.
"There is talent in North Africa, certainly,'' Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic said. "But it seems that we have to work a whole lot harder to be able to reach the level of competitiveness that the Western African teams are displaying right now.''
The central-south team of Zambia won last year's title, but before that, Egypt won three straight titles for North Africa in 2006, '08 and '10. Tunisia won another in 2004 in a final against northern rival Morocco.
Egypt, not playing in South Africa, is the tournament's most successful team with seven titles.
Western teams Cameroon, Ghana and Ivory Coast reached the final in the last four editions. Didier Drogba's Ivory Coast also played in last year's final against Zambia.
Egypt and Algeria made it all the way to the semifinals in 2010, but last year Tunisia was the only North African team to advance to the quarters, losing to Ghana.
Tunisia was close to reaching the second round again this year, but a 1-1 draw against Togo in its final Group D match was not enough. Tunisia missed a potential game-winning penalty kick in the second half.
It had beaten Algeria 1-0 with a late winner in its opener and lost its second match 3-0 to Ivory Coast. Tunisia finished third in the group, behind the tournament-favorite Elephants and Togo.
Last in the group was Algeria, which arrived in South Africa with high expectations as the continent's second-highest ranked team, behind the Ivorians.
It played well in the first two matches, losing late to Tunisia and then falling 2-0 to Togo after missing several scoring opportunities. It arrived at the final group match without a chance to advance. The Algerians had a 2-0 lead against Ivory Coast but conceded late equalizers to finish with a 2-2 draw.
"After two games it's nice to have moved forward,'' said Halilhodzic, who has revamped the national team after it failed to qualify for last year's tournament. "Confidence and experience is what gets the job done and I believe that this team has a bright future ahead.''
Morocco, host of the 2015 tournament, left the tournament without a victory. It drew with Angola 0-0, Cape Verde 1-1 and South Africa 2-2. It was beating South Africa until the final minutes before conceding the equalizer which ended its hopes of advancing.
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