Tunisia dream big for Qatar

The Carthage Eagles are gearing up for what will be their sixth FIFA World Cup. They are hoping that Qatar 2022 will be one to remember as they carry the hopes and dreams of 12 million Tunisians on their shoulders.

Tunisia are in a tough group also comprising Denmark, France and Australia.

Qatar 2022 marks the Eagles’ sixth World Cup

We take a closer look at some of their key players and the coach’s methodology

The current Tunisian squad is a completely different proposition to that of Russia 2018. The Carthage Eagles have become a totally different outfit under the tutelage of a new-look technical leadership team.

Tunisia are looking in good shape and have won plaudits for a string of impressive performances in recent friendlies against tough opposition. Expectations are high for Qatar.

The road to the knockout stages, however, will not be simple in the slightest. Standing in their way are world champions France, a star-studded Danish side and Australia.

Tunisia’s upcoming fixtures (all times local)

November 22

Denmark vs Tunisia (16:00, Education City Stadium)

November 26

Tunisia vs Australia (13:00, Al Janoub Stadium)

November 30

Tunisia vs France (18:00, Education City Stadium)

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Jalel Kadri: a master tactician

Kadri is a manager who is known for his love of attacking football, so it comes as no surprise that he adopts a 4-3-3 formation. He is only able to implement this ethos, however, due to a wealth of attacking talent at his disposal.

The perfect blend of attacking quality in Youssef Maskni, Naim Sliti and Seif El-Din Khawi, coupled with the steely midfielders of Aissa Laidouni and Elias Skhiri, provides the coach with plenty of options for adjusting his team as he sees fit.

Kadri’s tactical dynamism was on show against Chile, when he deployed a more defensive five-man midfield in an attempt to boss the centre of the pitch and snuff out any danger at the source.

In a slightly different move, for the first of two qualifiers against Mali he pushed the wingers into full-back positions to sure-up the defence.

In other ways, however, Kadri can be considered relatively conservative. It is not in his makeup to be overly experimental with tactics; for example, most of his substitutes are like-for-like and he is not in the habit of changing the style of play without good reason.

It could be argued, however, that his biggest asset is his unparalleled knowledge about Tunisian football. Prior to becoming national coach, he worked for nearly 20 years in the Tunisian league, as well as various other Arab leagues. In 2013, he was appointed assistant coach of Tunisia for a few games under Nabil Maaloul – a responsibility he repeated in June 2021, before being promoted to full-time coach after a successful stint.

Player to watch : Ellyes SkhiriThis extraordinary box-to-box midfielder is a vital defensive cog in the midfield. He has an uncanny ability to intercept and win second balls, as well as snuff out attacks.

Offensively, he creates lots of chances with his long balls from his deep-lying position, which allows him to detect opportunities better than others. His lethal long-shots are another string to his bow. All these attributes mean that he plays an integral role in Kadri’s formation, whatever form it may take.

In the German Bundesliga, he creates on average 1.3 chances per game, which is substantial for someone in his deeper-lying position. He also pulls off, on average, 3.7 interceptions per match.

At a young age, he chose to represent Tunisia over France, and now has 48 international caps to his name. He will be vital in the Tunisian midfield, when pitted against the likes of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Christian Eriksen, Paul Pogba and Eduardo Camavinga, among others.

Rising star: Hannibal Mejbri

This 19-year-old is one of the most promising up-and-coming talents in Tunisian football. He passed up the opportunity to play alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United in the Premier League, instead opting to get more playing time and cement his place for Qatar 2022.

Fans are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to watch young Mejbri showcase his undoubted talent under the lights in Qatar’s dazzling stadiums.

The player is known for his pinpoint long balls, but his real strength lies in his defensive output, which he has showcased on a regular basis with Birmingham this season. He has excelled in winning the second ball and attackers rarely get past him.

He has a good right-footed shot in his locker, despite not deploying this tool too often. Upon his return to Old Trafford, he will be hoping to become a mainstay in the Red Devil’s midfield. This ambition will be helped no end if enjoys a successful World Cup campaign this winter.

Tunisia at the World Cup

This will be Tunisia’s sixth World Cup. Their first appearance in the tournament came back in 1978, as they became the first African team to win a World Cup match. The historic moment came when the Carthage Eagles beat Mexico 3-1, thanks to goals from Ali Kaabi, Nejib Ghommidh and Mokhtar Dhouieb. This seminal moment led to an increased number of African teams participating in the tournament.

Although they won their first match, the rest of the tournament did not live up to the hype, with a loss to Poland and a draw to Germany. They exited the tournament, one point shy of a top two finish.

Then followed a 20-year absence, during which many other Arab and African teams thrived. Hopes were high when Tunisia returned to the World Cup at France 1998, but there was not much to write home about. They lost against both England and Colombia and only managed to muster an unspectacular 1-1 draw against Romania.

At one stage, World Cup participation became the norm for Tunisian fans. Their country also made appearances in the Korea-Japan 2002 and Germany 2006 editions, meaning that the team participated in three consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history. Despite qualification, neither 2002 and 2006 can be deemed a success as they failed to qualify from the Group Stage on both occasions. In 2002, they finished rock bottom in their group and 2006 was not much of an improvement, as they only just avoided the wooden spoon due to a slightly better goal difference than Saudi Arabia.

Russia 2018 marked the return of the Carthage Eagles, and the team managed to register its first victory since 1978, but two disappointing losses against Belgium and England meant they could not quite reach the elusive knockout stages.

Source: Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF)

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