World Cup 2018 Tunisia team profile: How they qualified, star man, World Cup record, fixtures
Tunisia make a first trip to the World Cup in 12 years but how will they fare without talisman Youssef Msakni?
- Honours: Africa Cup of Nations (2004), African Nations Championship (2011)
- FIFA Ranking: 14
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
The Eagles of Carthage received a bye in the first round of CAF qualifying, before beating Maruitania 4-2 on aggregate in the second to progress to the third round. There, they topped a group with DR Congo, Libya and Guinea, winning four and drawing two of their six matches to edge DR Congo.
STAR MAN - Wahbi Khazri (Rennes on loan from Sunderland)
Youssef Msakni would have been their fulcrum but a knee ligament injury has been ruled him out of the finals, a bitter blow to the country that coach Nabil Maloul said was akin to Argentina going without Lionel Messi. The creative pressure will now fall on vice-captain Khazri, whose set-piece delivery will be key.
The 27-year-old will be familiar to those who follow the Premier League.
Khazri, having excelled at Bordeaux in Ligue 1, arrived at Sunderland with a reputation for brilliance in set-piece situations, with an acute eye for a pass. After a slow start he showed flashes of his undeniable quality, leading Sunderland to a shock win against Manchester United in February 2016 but his Premier League career stalled from there, and was shipped out on loan as Sunderland were relegated to the Championship after his second season.
Now back in France with Rennes, the 27-year-old has produced an impressive 9 goals in 17 starts and heads to the World Cup in form.
NEXT BIG THING - Saif-Eddine Khaoui (Troyes on loan from Marseille)
A by-product of Khazri’s promotion to creator-in-chief has been added responsibility for Khaoui. The 23-year-old can either play through the middle or out on the right where he likes to cut inside and shoot with his left. Khaoui and Khazri should, the theory goes, dovetail nicely.
THE COACH - Nabil Maloul
The 55-year-old was an assistant to Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2002 and this is his second spell in charge after a brief tenure in 2013. He took the reins after Henryk Kasperczak was relieved of his duties following a poor Africa Cup of Nations in 2017. His instincts are to attack, which given the personnel at his disposal, seems appropriate.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
This will be their fifth finals and first in 12 years. They won their first-ever World Cup game in 1978, coming from behind to beat Mexico 3-1, and, in doing so, became the first African team to ever win a World Cup match.
However, it was 20 years before they qualified again and the highs of those qualifications – in 1998, 2002 and 2006 - were somewhat stymied by weak performances at the tournaments proper, where they picked up a solitary point at each edition.
REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
Losing Msakni represents a sizable blow to this team but this remains a very exciting crop of young players – particularly in attack - and Maloul will give them the opportunity to shine. They could be an outside bet for second in the group.
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