By Lotfi Wada
Bar Faouzi Benzarti’s sudden departure just after the double header versus Niger, it has been a smooth qualifying process for the Eagles of Carthage in what is their 14th AFCON in a row (a record among qualified teams).
The job was carried out almost perfectly by this young, offensive-minded Tunisian team which recorded just one defeat in six games. It wasn’t much a surprise for the 2004 champions to qualify especially after the 24-team extension decided by CAF but it was pleasant to see a continuation of the attacking football witnessed at the 2017 AFCON.
Since those successful qualifiers and the welcoming back of talisman Youssef Msakni from injury, Tunisia have sharpened their tools against North African opposition twice, namely Morocco and Algeria. Those two defeats, especially to Morocco, were far from painful but gave excellent lessons to this group of players about the physicality, tactics and class needed for those kind of derbies and big games.
The final preparations for AFCON have been far more successful for Alain Giresse’s men. Indeed, the Tunisians bagged two wins against Croatia in Zagreb and Iraq but, most important of all, offered two technically sound performances and created a lot of chances in both games.
Tunisia’s preparations will end on Monday when they will host Burundi in Rades to put the final tactical, technical touches on what has been a positive few weeks.
Tunisia has been pretty easy on the eye in the recent years after a long period of extremely basic, efficient, rigorous football. The new style peaked during the World Cup qualifier in Conakry when the guests trounced the hosts. This offensive style is very dependent on the form of the midfield marshalled on the defensive aspect by the lanky Elyes Skhiri and the silky Ferjani Sassi, who has just returned from injury. Those two players, accompanied by a third midfielder who varies, will surely be the keystone of the style and the link to help the shining of offensive players like Badri, Khazri, Msakni and Sliti.
Creativity and goals – Tunisia’s power will be surely its offensive force which scored 19 goals in the last 10 games. Unlike the past, Tunisia, through Khazri, Sliti, Msakni, Badri, Chaouat or even Khenissi have enough football to outscore opponents & enough technique to impose their brand of football.
The Achilles’ Heel
Susceptibility to counters and set-pieces – Contrary to the past when Tunisia was famously known and feared around Africa for its extremely-tough-to-break defence, this generation has shown weaknesses defensively speaking (see the World Cup in Russia) on counters and set pieces. Added to that, Tunisian forwards, although they can create chances. have a real problem of efficiency which was very visible lately against Croatia in Zagreb or even earlier during World Cup qualifiers and AFCON 2017.
Living the best days of his footballing career at Saint Etienne (14 goals, 7 assists this season), Wahbi Khazri will be the technical leader of squad. A good passer with the technique to be a danger from distance, the Saint Etienne attacker also has the character needed to lead the Tunisia attacking line.
The Hipster’s Choice
Wajdi Kechrida converted into a right back has flown since this re-conversion. Energetic, defensively solid and offensively sound, the 23-year-old immediately impressed everyone either during his brilliant Tunisian league/CAF Confederation Cup/Arab Champions League campaigns or during the first caps earned recently. The Etoile du Sahel sensation has everything it takes to be Tunisia’s right back for the next decade.
Alain Giresse was appointed as Tunisia NT coach in December. A familiar face on the African football scene (he has coached Senegal, Gabon, Mali and FAR Rabat), the French tactician hasn’t collected any success on this same scene or won recognition for any recognisable football philosophy. Giresse has so far been experimenting and will have to resolve the problems Tunisia has been encountering in the last few years if he wants to finally leave a real mark on the African scene.
Tunisia have everything it takes to qualify for the round of 16. A group stage exit would be a real humiliation for the country and this generation of players. For the KO stages, the Eagles could possibly face one of Ghana, Cameroon, Morocco or Ivory Coast.
Bar an exceptional catastrophe, the Round 16 game will surely be the stiffest test for this crop of players and Alain Giresse, especially if Tunisia have to face hoodoo teams like Ghana or Cameroon. A win against such big teams could open the road for Alain Giresse’s men. Who knows? المستحيل ليس تونسي!