The Carthage Eagles are a story of consistency and discipline – though they are more renowned for their indiscipline when things turn sour, as any seasoned viewers of African football may bemoan.
This is Tunisia’s sixth appearance at the World Cup finals. That means they have qualified for more World Cups than every team in Africa bar Cameroon (8 appearances). The track record is an impressive one for a country with a population of 12 million – way off the numbers of the other top tier African national teams.
Qualification for this World Cup was far from convincing, and they have a Moussa Sissako own goal, over two legs, to thank for the 1-0 aggregate win over Mali which saw them sneak through.
Coach Jalel Kadri, who was assistant to his predecessor Mondher Kebaier at AFCON 2021, has not changed a huge amount since taking over earlier this year.
The system is still 4-3-3 that turns into a 4-5-1 when out of possession, with the serious attacking threats coming from the wide areas. Tunisia’s strength remains the solidity, organisation and togetherness of a collective rather than the elite talent at their disposal.
Kadri has some success to show for his efforts already, after seeing off Chile and hosts Japan to win the Kirin Cup friendly contest. Tunisia will also be encouraged by a positive showing at the FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar last year when they eventually, after extra time, lost 2-0 in the final to Algeria.
That recent tournament pedigree is an encouraging sign ahead of this tournament, though the recent thrashing 5-1 by Brazil was a wake-up call. Moreover, a lack of a proven striker at international level hinders them, as does a collection of goalkeepers either past their best or with a lot to prove.
As always, they will relish the chance to prove doubters wrong, especially in a country where there is a large Tunisian expat community, and some of their key players – Ferjani Sassi and Youssef Msakni – ply their trade and consider a second home.
Wahbi Khazri – In many ways the Montpellier attacker typifies Tunisia, in that he regularly squeezes every inch out of his ability. Blessed with the ability to play across the forward line, Khazri always gives his all for the national team and is the most important figure to their attack. Impressively, he now sits behind only Issam Jemaa amongst Tunisia’s all-time goalscorers. Fantasy football enthusiasts may want the set-piece specialist in their teams.
Jalel Kadri – All of Africa’s teams at the World Cup have a local head coach, but Kadri can boast of being the local-est of the locals. Kadri horned his skills in Tunisia, starting his coaching career locally and then before yoyo-ing between his homeland and other areas in North Africa and the Middle East.
A glance at the history of Tunisia’s WC outings would tell you they have never made it past the group stages. To break that duck would be a great achievement, but they have their work cut out against defending champions France, a confident Denmark and Australia. This will most likely be a Group Stage exit.