Today we profile the fourth team of 32 which has qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar—Tunisia.
This is the sixth time that the Eagles of Carthage are participating in the World Cup. Each time they have been eliminated in the group stage. But the Tunisians had higher hopes this year, particularly as their most recent form had them beating Chile 2-0 and Japan 3-0 on their way to winning the 2022 Kirin Cup in Japan.
Tunisia was placed in Group D with France (ranked #3), Denmark (ranked #10), and Australia (ranked #34). Ranked number 30 by FIFA, the Tunisians must feel hard done by their luck. France and Denmark are simply much better and are currently playing too well, and the Australians, though less technical may be too physical. Expect the African side to leave the competition at the group stage once again but perhaps after winning a game. Tunisia’s kit is all white with red borders throughout or all red with white borders throughout.
Tunisia is the northernmost country in Africa and its history dates back to 11-12C BC when they were inhabited by indigenous Berber tribes and then the Phoenicians who established Carthage, one of the most important cities of classic antiquity. The country is 63 thousand square miles encompassing both part of the Sahara and the Atlas Mountains but mostly containing arable land. Due to its elongated shape the country has multiple climates, Mediterranean climate in the north, which is also mountainous, and dry semiarid weather in the south nearer the desert. Tunisia is a unitary presidential republic with a population of 11.7M people of whom 99% are Muslim, 98% are Arab-Berber, and most speak Tunisian Arabic, their GDP is $149B, and their Human Development Index score is 0.74 (high).
Squad (which may change before the cup given injuries, form, and coaching choices—teams mentioned are subject to change given transfers): Goalkeepers—Ali Jemal (Etoile du Sahel), Aymen Dahmen (CS Sfaxien), Bechir Ben Said (US Monastir), and Mouez Hassen (Club Africain); Defenders—Bilel Ifa (Abha), Montassar Talbi (Rubin Kazan), Nader Ghandri (Club Africain), Oussama Haddadi (Yeni Malatyaspor), Mortadha Ben Ouanes (Kasimpasa), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly), Mohamed Drager (Luzern), Hamza Mathlouthi (Zamalek), Ali Abdi (Caen), and Dylan Bronn (Metz); Midfielders—Anis Ben Slimane (Brondby), Ghailene Chaalali (Esperance de Tunis), Hannibal Mejbri (Manchester United), Ferjani Sassi (Al-Duhail), Aissa Laidouni (Ferencvaros), Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane (Esperance de Tunis), Ellyes Skhiri (Koln), and Saad Bguir (Abha); Strikers—Seifeddine Jaziri (Zamalek), Youssef Msakni (Al-Arabi), Taha Yassine Khenissi (Kuwait SC), Naim Sliti (Al-Ettifaq), Issam Jebali (OB), and Wahbi Khazri (Saint-Etienne).
Path to Qatar
Tunisia finished atop Group B in CAF qualifiers ahead of Equatorial Guinea, Zambia, and Mauritania, one of the weakest groups in the competition. The Tunisians then played Mali in the third round of CAF qualifying in home-and-away matches. They drew at home in Tunis and beat Mali 1-0 on the road in Bamako with an own goal being the clincher.
Coach Jalel Kadri (appointed in 2022 after the firing of Mondher Kebaier due to Tunisia’s poor showing in AFCON) uses a defensive-minded 4-3-2-1 where the midfielders play back forming a seven-man block. Negating play and then attacking on the counter is their bread and butter. Their target man, Khazri, is fed by their other two strikers Sliti and Msakni, and mostly on the counter.
The team is composed mostly of African and Asian-based players with a few players who ply their trade in European teams such as Hannibal Mejbri (Manchester United) and Wahbi Khazri (Saint-Etienne), but their star is striker Seifeddine Jaziri.
Group and Tourney Prospects
Group D is problematic for Tunisia as their colonial masters, France, are simply too strong even on a bad day, and the group’s second fiddle, Denmark, is playing some of the best national team ball in Europe. This leaves Australia who are less technically gifted than their African opponents but much more corpulent. The weather might be a factor as the Tunisians will be more at home in Qatar than their three opponents, but if the Qataris succeeded in providing the climate-controlled stadiums they promised then it is hard to see anything helping Tunisia progress.
Photo: Tunisian Striker Youssef Msakni – Shutterstock ID: 91789280–Maxisport