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World Cup Preview – Tunisia (27/32)

Tunisia

CAF

Group G

Best World Cup Performance: Group Stage x4 – 1978, 1998, 2002 and 2006.

Current ranking: 21st 

History:

Tunisia have previously qualified for five World Cups but are yet to make a lasting impression, having never made it past the group stage. The most recent of those appearances was 2006. Tunisia won their first ever World Cup game 3-1 against Mexico in 1978, but in 11 appearances since they have failed to win a single game, suffering seven defeats along the way. Their final group game against Panama will undoubtably be their best chance to end that barren run.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab), Mouez Hassen (Nice), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Baten).

Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa), Dylan Bronn (Gent), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek).

Midfielders: Wahbi Khazri (Rennes), Anice Badri (Esperance), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Etoile Sportive du Sahel), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nasr), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier).

Forwards: Saifeddine Khaoui (Marseille), Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ettifaq), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Bassem Srarfi (Nice), Naim Sliti (Lille), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Ghaylen Chaaleli (Esperance).

Group Fixtures

  1. Tunisia Vs England, 19:00, 18/06, Volgograd Arena, Volograd
  2. Belgium Vs Tunisia, 13:00, 23/06, Otkrytiye Arena, Moscow
  3. Panama Vs Tunisia, 19:00, 28/06, Mordovia Arena, Mordovia

Manager: Nabil Maaloul

Nabil Maaloul is a former midfielder from Tunisia, who most notably played for Hannover 96, from 1989-91. He was capped 74 times for his country during his playing career and progressed to assistant manager, shortly after retiring. After leaving his assistant role with the national side, he secured a historic treble for Tunisian side ES Tunis. This success led to his promotion as coach of Tunisia, yet unfortunately they failed to qualify for Brazil 2014 and he promptly resigned.

Four years later he returned to the national team and the Carthage Eagles have remained unbeaten since, securing qualification as the top side in CAF Group A.

Qualification:

Qualification from Africa is notoriously unpredictable, however Tunisia are built on solid foundations and only conceded four goals during their six games. This despite, disposing of Polish coach Henryk Kasperczak halfway through the qualifying campaign and replacing him with former coach Nabil Maaloul. There impressive qualifying record helped them to return to the World Cup after a 12 year absence. The Carthage Eagles remained unbeaten throughout qualifying, yet only finished above a respectable DR Congo side by a single point. However, Tunisia faced little trouble against either Libya or Guinea. Youssef Msakni was their top scorer with three goals, coming in the form of a hat-trick against Guinea.

Captain: Aymen Mathlouthi

Aymen Mathlouthi is a goalkeeper, who until recently had spent 17 years of his career in his native Tunisia, now playing for Al-Batin in Saudi Arabia. He has 70 caps for the national team and played in their 2011 African Cup of Nations win, as well as winning goalkeeper of the tournament in the 2015 edition.

Tunisia’s defence is one of their strongest assets, Mathlouthi’s experience and organisational skills are key to this. In Africa he is widely considered one of the best goalkeepers never to make the transition over to Europe, this is due to his calmness on the ball and eye for a pass.

Danger Man: Wahbi Khazri

Former Sunderland forward Wahbi Khazri is without doubt Tunisia’s most potent attacking threat, he’s enjoyed a revival this season in Ligue 1 playing for Rennes and will go to Russia full of confidence.

Khazri is most effective as either a left forward or attacking midfielder and possesses a wonderful technique, he’s able to cut teams open with his vision and passing or go for goal himself, scoring 12 and assisting 2 this term in France. It may also be remembered from his time in the Premier League, that the Tunisian has an exceptional delivery from a dead ball, making the Carthage Eagles a danger from set pieces.

Young Player: Ellyes Skhiri  

Tunisia have a youthful midfield, but Skhiri has come of age this season in France for Montpellier and is one of their brightest prospects. He plays as a holding midfielder and made 33 appearances in the league this campaign, which is an exceptional at the age of 23.

His best assets are ball retention and interceptions and acts as a functional defensive midfielder. Although, those are his greatest strengths an 85% pass success rate suggests he’s also very capable with the ball. As well as this, he’s bagged himself four goals for Montpellier and may need to replicate that in Russia, if Tunisia are to progress.

Premier League Players: Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City)

Yohan Benalouane is the only Tunisian to currently play in the Premier League, although he has had issues at Leicester with getting regular game time at centre back. He only featured four times as a substitute during their famous title win and was sent out on loan last season.

Prediction: 3rd in the group

Written by Harvey Sayer.

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