Tunisia took the Maghreb derby honours here Monday, a 2-1 defeat of Morocco putting them alongside Gabon at the top of Group C in the Africa Cup of Nations.
The north African neighbours’ last Nations Cup meeting came in the 2004 final won by Tunisia, who also denied Morocco qualification to the 2006 World Cup.
And the Carthage Eagles claimed the bragging rights again with goals in either half from Khaled Korbi and Youssef Msakni, with Houssine Kharja getting a dubious late consolation for Morocco.
Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi said: “This was a precious victory that will help us. We played well as a team…but the competition is long, this is just one victory, we have lots of matches in front of us, I hope we can progress.
“We were better in defence than – when you look at the quality of players we have available – in midfield and in attack.”
Captain Karim Haggui added: “We deserved to win, I hope our new generation of players will write their own history now.”
Morocco coach Eric Gerets said that his side had to bounce back against co-hosts Gabon.
“This is the Nations Cup, it’s full of surprises, that’s life, now we’ve got to show the mental strength we’ve displayed over the past year,” said the Belgian.
“Our second match against Gabon is an all or nothing situation.”
Moroccan skipper Kharja said that he and his team-mates needed to be a bit more savvy in their remaining two games.
“We didn’t deserve to lose, we still have two matches to qualify, I think we can do it, we juust have to use our heads.”
Gerets chose Arsenal’s Marouane Chamakh to spearhead the Moroccan attack alongside Oussama Assaidi, with Queen Park Rangers’ Adel Taraabt on the bench.
The Tunisians were missing Auxerre-attached Issam Jemaa, top scorer in qualifying but sidelined with an ankle problem.
The match got underway with the L’Amitie stadium only half full, the other half having gone off to celebrate co-host Gabon’s stirring 2-0 win over Niger in the first instalment of this Group C double bill.
The two favourites to qualify – at least until Gabon’s victory – were creating plenty of early chances, one of the better ones coming before the half hour was up when Zouhaier Dhaouadi struck from outside the box with only the post preventing Tunisia from taking control.
They did just that on 34 minutes when Korbi’s dipping freekick from 25m sailed over the Moroccan defence to hit the inside of Nadir Lamyaghri’s far upright and cross the line.
Morocco would have levelled before the break only for Younes Belhanda to shoot narrowly off target after some nimble footwork from the Montpellier man in front of Aymen Mathlouthi’s goalmouth.
Gerets made one switch at the restart, bringing on Taarabt for Assaidi in a bid to salvage something and the QPR forward was quickly making his presence felt.
Gerets later introduced Youssef Hadji for Boussoufa and the Rennes striker soon had his head in his hands when after beautifully controlling a long lob in the area he shot wide.
Morocco were getting plenty of the ball but the Tunisian backline marshalled by Haggui was holding firm.
On 75 minutes second half substitute Msakni bagged his first for his country when fending off Ahmed Kantari and then Badr El Kaddouri to slice the ball across the box and into Lamyaghri’s far corner.
Morocco pulled one back with four minutes to go when Ahmed Kantari, who appeared well offside, crossed from the right for Kharja to convert – the Fiorentina midfielder had Tunisian hearts in their mouths again in injury time when shaving the crossbar.