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AFCON 2021: Youssef Msakni, Tunisia's spearhead

AFCON 2021: Youssef Msakni, Tunisia's spearhead
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DANIEL BELOUMOU OLOMO/AFP or licensors -

Cameroon

Tunisia's Youssef Msakni is one of the continent's most experienced players and has brought his technical touch to his quarter-final against Burkina Faso in Garoua on Saturday.

The powerful long-range shot that eliminated Nigeria (1-0) in the round of 16 was not a trial run. Youssef Msakni has already scored many goals of this calibre. In 2013, his 25-metre shot into the top corner against Algeria in the last minute (1-0) was even voted the best goal of the tournament.

"He's a brilliant player, technically he's very strong, he has vision and a sense of the game, he's a real footballer," said Alain Giresse, who coached Youssef Msakni at the previous African Cup of Nations (CAN), where Tunisia finished fourth. The Saudi Arabia-based Al-Arabi player "feels football, I'm sensitive to it," said "Gigi".

  • Aesthetic tastes

Youssef Msakni, 31, has scored other magnificent goals at the CAN, including two dribbling goals in 2012 against Morocco and Niger and a header against Togo in 2017. In 2019, with Alain Giresse, he was "content" with a penalty and a nice fox kick in the middle of the Malagasy defence in the quarter-finals (3-0), but his rocket against Nigeria reminded us of his aesthetic tastes.

The 1984 European champion believes that Youssef Msakni "is the type of player who needs to be given a bit of freedom. He added: "It would be a shame to muzzle him in a specific position. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to do that, but I'm sure I'm going to be able to do it. We have to leave him in the creation."

  • Great player

Is Youssef Msakni easy to manage? "Yes and no," replied Alain Giresse. "But I like boys who have character and pride as players. It went very well between us because I understood him. We exchanged ideas, I don't have the slightest problem with him, because I was frank and direct about his game."

The former Tunisia coach considers Youssef Msakni a great player. I had demands, I said to him: this is the recognition of your talent. Above all, the player is very attached to his national team. "He left quite early, he kept this link with Tunisia."

A Tunisian revelation in 2011, winner of the African Championship with local teams, and of the Champions League with Esperance de Tunis, Youssef Msakni preferred a big contract in Qatar to a European adventure.

  • Cruciate ligament rupture

He spent six seasons at Lekhwiya, who became Al Duhail in 2017. He signed for 23 million dinars (€11.5 million at the time), a record for a player playing in Africa at the time. Alain Giresse never went back on it. "I respect the career choices of players.

Unfortunately for him, a nasty cruciate ligament rupture in his knee greatly disrupted his career. He had a spell at KAS Eupen in Belgium but failed to find a buyer despite serious approaches from Cardiff.

At 31 years of age, Youssef Msakni still has a lot to write about. With seven goals in the African Cup of Nations, he is already the 19th highest scorer in the history of the tournament. In his seventh CAN, he is approaching the record of Cameroon's Rigobert Song and Egypt's Ahmed Hassan, who played in eight of them, the same ones from 1996 to 2010.

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