Gernot Rohr’s already qualified side added the noted scalp of the 2004 winners to those of Morocco and Niger to finish winners of Group C and earn a quarter-final date with the Group D runners-up.
With Ghana favourites to claim Group D that could prove a major boost to the co-hosts’ outlandish bid bid to make it to the February 12th final.
Day 11 saw simultaneous games being played in Franceville, where Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s’ goal did it for 2004 winners Tunisia, and in the Gabon capital where the dead’ tie between the two eliminated teams ended in a 1-0 win for Morocco over Niger.
The nation’s eyes though were trained on events in the country’s second city where Aubameyang, one of the Panthers’ main stars, bagged a 62nd minute goal when he collected a loose ball before wrong footing goalkeeper Rami Jeridi for his third goal of the competition.
Tunisia fought to restore parity but the home heroes were resolute in defence to hold on for another famous victory.
“This was our most difficult game so far against a very good Tunisia team, who dominated the game from start to finish,” admitted Rohr.
“It was not easy because we were already qualified for the quarter-finals. But thanks to the professional attitude and fighting spirit of the players, we won to finish top of the group.”
Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi said: “We rested some of the players because they have already been booked and we did not wish to risk them before the quarter-finals.
“However, those who played today showed many good qualities because we played well but we could not win the match.”
Aubameyang is now joint top scorer with Angola’s Manucho and Morocco’s Houcine Kharja, whose campaign ended prematurely and painfully when he was stretchered off with a knee injury in Libreville.
Morocco denied Niger their first ever Nations Cup point when Younes Belhanda broke the deadlock 11 minutes from time – however the biggest cheer from a tiny crowd came earlier when television images showed Gabon scoring.
Morocco coach Eric Gerets said his players had given him the response he was hoping for after getting knocked out with defeats to Gabon and Tunisia.
“We are like a boxer in the ring who gets a kick in the head, he’s down but he will stand up and fight again,” the Belgian said.
“The crisis after the second game (3-2 defeat to the co-hosts) was terrible, but the players stood up and showed the first signs of life tonight, that’s what I needed to see.
“My players tried to leave this Nations Cup with their heads held high, having said that our campaign was catastrophic.”
With 2014 World Cup qualifying starting in June the Belgian confirmed he would not be walking away from his job.
Rolland Courbis, the team consultant who assumed control of Niger from manager Harouna Doula after their shambolic opening loss to Gabon, said Morocco had deserved to win.
Like Gerets a former coach of Marseille Courbis added: “Niger has lots of qualities and limits, but we were in a difficult group, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the two qualified teams goes all the way.”
Thursday sees the curtain fall on the fourth round with the final batch of finely-poised Group D – Ghana play Guinea and Mali take on Botswana.