TUNISIA – If there was still a complete evaluation of the squad strength of the 32 competing nations in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, there is a fair likelihood that many pundits would place Tunisia near the absolute bottom of the list.
There aren’t any well-known names associated with the North Africans that the typical football fan would recognize. Instead, Tunisia puts its faith on intangibles to make up for what appears to be a deficiency in talent on paper.
“Grinta,” which is Italian for “grit,” has become the motto of the national team, and it wonderfully defines the underdog attitude that the Tunisians exhibit when playing on the field.
Throughout their history at the World Cup, they have consistently used those intangibles as a catalyst for ground-breaking achievements. For instance, Tunisia created history in 1978 by becoming the first African or Arab country to win a match at a World Cup by defeating Mexico 3-1 in the first match of the group stages. This made Tunisia the first country to ever win a match at a World Cup.
However, following appearances at the competition were not able to live up to the expectations that Tarek Dhiab’s golden generation established in Argentina. Although there are five African countries represented in Qatar, Tunisia is the only one of the five that has never advanced out of the group stage.
Carthage Eagles fans who travel to Qatar are aware that their team is once again not favored to advance to the knockout stages of the competition. These fans will be in large numbers. Despite this, the players under coach Jalel Kadri will not dial back their desire, and they will present a formidable obstacle for the other teams in Group D, which includes France, Austria, and Denmark.
Over the course of more than 50 matches dating back to 2019, Tunisia has given up an average of half a goal per game that they’ve lost. The team’s ability to maintain their composure under pressure is one of their greatest qualities. Both Assa Ladouni and Ellyes Skhiri are capable of anchoring the middle of the field in holding duties and are more than capable of efficiently passing possession to players who are better suited for offensive roles.
Yousef Msakni, Wahbi Khazri, and Naim Sliti make up a formidable offensive front line that possesses a wealth of playing experience.
Particularly for Msakni, Qatar 2022 will feel like it has the potential to be the defining event of his professional life.
After an impressive club career in his native country with Esperance de Tunis, he confounded everyone’s assumptions by turning down a move to Europe in 2013, opting instead to make the Qatar Stars League his permanent residence. This decision was a complete departure from what was considered to be the norm.
Since making the move to Qatar ten years ago, the Tunisian genius has established himself as one of the very finest players the country’s soccer field has ever seen. Msakni was forced to withdraw from the 2018 World Cup after suffering a knee injury that rendered him unable to compete in the tournament. Four years later, the direction of his career has completed a full circle, and “the ferret,” as he is called in Tunisia, appears to be set to put a bow on his career by finally assisting his nation in advancing to the knockout stages of the competition.
However, despite the fact that Tunisia’s central midfield is undeniably a strength, the team’s goalkeeping has a lot of room for improvement. Aymen Dahmen, the 25-year-old goalkeeper for CS Sfaxien, has done an acceptable job throughout this calendar year. However, Tunisian goalkeepers are notorious for making embarrassing mistakes in recent major tournaments, and Dahmen’s lack of experience on this stage may unnerve supporters of his team.
In the same vein, Tunisia does not possess a dedicated target man. In the past three years, Khazri has filled in as a striker when necessary; nevertheless, the former Sunderland winger does not possess the size necessary to compete with center backs in the air.
The third and most significant unknown pertaining to the Tunisian national team is head coach Kadri. Kadri will be one of two coaches in Qatar who have never played a single kick of senior football in the first division of any country. The other coach, John Herdman of Canada, is in the same boat.
Kadri is viewed as a constrained manager who will accommodate the senior players in his squad, receive advice from higher-ups in the federation, and eventually fail to implement the kind of game plans Tunisia would require to shock the European powers in their group.
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