'Football is like a religion for us'

Tunisia are already through to quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations but are looking to finish top of their group.

    Hocine Ragued, who's played in the Czech Republic, Turkey and France told press how big football is in Tunisia [GETTY] 

    Tunisia have an additional and emotional spur driving them onwards and upwards at the Africa Cup of Nations as they seek to provide the people back home with some relief after last year's revolution.

    "Last year we had all our problems in Tunisia with the revolution, so everyone is waiting for us to produce results at this Nations Cup," said midfielder Hocine Ragued.

    The Arab Spring uprising movement, which led to the toppling of regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, began in Tunisia in December 2010 when Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in protest at police corruption and ill treatment.

    His self-immolation sparked the Jasmine revolution and the downfall of Tunisia President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who went into exile in Saudi Arabia in January last year after.

    "It's very important that we finish top of our group, no generation of Tunisia players before us have won their opening three games at the Nations Cup"

    Hocine Ragued

    Ragued, who plays for Turkish side Karabukspor, was speaking just before he and his teammates boarded a flight for Franceville where the 2004 titleholders take on co-hosts Gabon in Tuesday's closing Group C game.

    The Parisian-born Ragued, who used to play for Paris Saint Germain, said: "Football is like a religion for us, this competition is very important to the Tunisian people."

    "I've been in contact with my family and people back home but as everyone knows the internet doesn't work very well in Gabon...but everyone I've spoken to is happy for me and the team.

    "We've come here with big ambitions, to go as far as possible, but we have a tough match ahead of us tomorrow, Gabon are a good side.

    "It's very important that we finish top of our group, no generation of Tunisia players before us have won their opening three games at the Nations Cup."

    Stars not yet shining

    With a mountain of kit and luggage waiting in the hotel lobby to be loaded for the trip to Franceville, Tunisia embark on the journey to Gabon's second city safe in the knowledge that they already have their ticket - to the last eight.

    With wins against Morocco and Niger they are now fighting with Gabon to finish top of the table which comes with the not insignificant reward of avoiding expected Group D winners Ghana in the quarter-finals.

    Asked whether he was going to pick a strong side for the clash against Gabon Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi smiled: "We only have strong players with us.

    "But a couple of changes are necessary."

    At the press conference conducted in Arabic, French and English, Trabelsi reflected on the tournament so far.

    "This hasn't been the best tournament for the quality of football, the big stars haven't been able to produce their top game, the European-based players are finding it difficult to cope with the hot and humid conditions. There's been something lacking on the physical side of things.

    "I hope things will improve in the knockout stages".



    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    What obstacles do young women in technology have to overcome to achieve their dreams? Play this retro game to find out.

    The Coming War on China

    The Coming War on China

    Journalist John Pilger on how the world's greatest military power, the US, may well be on the road to war with China.