EBEBIYIN, Equatorial Guinea, January 22 – Captain Yassine Chikhaoui headed a late winner as Tunisia defeated Zambia 2-1 and took a three-point Group B lead on Thursday in the Africa Cup of Nations.
The Switzerland-based midfielder nodded a cross past goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene to complete a comeback after Zambia had looked the likelier winners for much of the game.
Emmanuel Mayuka put Zambia ahead on 59 minutes and Ahmed Akaichi became the first player to score twice at the tournament when he equalised on 70 minutes.
Cape Verde and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who have one point each, meet later in the second half of a double-header.
Tunisia should have been awarded an early penalty as the left arm of Zambia centre-back Stoppila Sunzu prevented a Wahbi Khazri pass reaching an unmarked team-mate close to goal.
But the referee waved play on before a capacity 5,000 crowd at the Nuevo Estadio de Ebebiyin in north-east Equatorial Guinea on a hot, humid evening.
Zambia then took control with midfielder and captain Rainford Kalaba and striker Mayuka having chances to break the deadlock.
Kalaba fired wide three times, forced goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi to tip over another shot and had yet another effort at goal bravely blocked by Houcine Ragued.
Mayuka, a fringe first-team player at high-riding English Premier League club Southampton, wasted two good chances in the final minutes of the opening half.
Unmarked near the six-yard box, the striker headed straight at Mathlouthi, who needed two attempts to grasp the ball.
The Zambian had an even better chance a couple of minutes later as a defensive mix-up between two Tunisians gave him a clear, close-range sight of goal.
However, Mayuka suffered the embarrassment of a ‘fresh-air’ attempt, completely missing the ball which trickled harmlessly into the hands of Mathlouthi.
Tunisia, with two wins and two draws against Zambia in previous Cup of Nations clashes, trooped off at half-time knowing they were fortunate to be level.
Kalaba, who plays his club football in the Democratic Republic of Congo with four-time African champions TP Mazembe, was the centre of attention again early in the second half.
This time it was for the wrong reason, though, as he fouled Rami Bedoui and was shown the first yellow card of the game.
Tunisia had another penalty appeal rejected when 2012 Cup of Nations title winner Emmanuel Mbola appeared to foul Youssef Msakni.
Just short of the hour mark, Zambia were finally rewarded for constant pressure when Mayuka atoned for his early misses by putting the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) ahead.
A Tunisian defence that conceded only two goals in six qualifiers failed to clear the ball and when it ran loose to Mayuka, he made no mistake with a fierce, close-range half-volley.
Akaichi levelled 11 minutes later, tapping the ball into the net at the far post after Syam Ben Youssef nodded a corner across the goalmouth.