Group G: Tunisia facing a stiff task without star man Msakni
Eagles of Carthage likely to find goals hard to come by on their return to the World Cup
Naim Sliti will carry a lot of Tunisia’s attacking threat. Photograph: Salah Habibi/AFP/Getty
Who are they?
The Eagles of Carthage are back on the world’s biggest stage but any prospects of them soaring are fairly slim. Tunisia had a stern enough task trying to make it out of a group containing Belgium and England as it was, but the loss of star player Youssef Msakni through injury is a particularly cruel blow. Msakni’s absence means Sunderland flop Wahbi Khazri is the top scorer left in the provisional squad with 12 – suggesting goals are going to be hard to come by. The fixtures haven’t been kind to Tunisia either, and by the time they play Panama in their final group fixture they could already be out of the tournament.
World Cup moment
Tunisia qualified for three consecutive tournaments from 1998-2006, but their sole victory came in 1978, when they beat Mexico 3-1. That victory in Rosario was the first ever by an African side at the World Cup – and they then went on to hold defending champions West Germany. The first game of France ’98 saw them beaten 2-0 by England in Marseille – revenge is improbable but would certainly be sweet.
How did they get here?
Tunisia finished top of a group containing Guinea, Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo with four wins and two draws. They took four points off the Congolese, including a vital 2-2 draw away from home in Kinshasa.
Ingrained in Tunisian football, Nabil Maaloul earned 74 caps for the national side and has won eight top-flight titles with the nation’s most successful club side, ES Tunis, as a player and a manager. This is his second stint in charge after a brief tenure in 2013, and qualification for Russia has already rendered his return a success.
The main man
Youssef Msakni’s injury means there is a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Wahbu Khazri, who is currently at Rennes in France. Khazri came second in the voting for this year’s Marc-Vivien Foe award – given to the best African player in the French top flight.
The one to watch
Much of Tunisia’s attacking thrust will come from Naim Sliti, a tricky, powerful wide forward who likes to cut in from the left onto his right foot.
Injuries have all but ended the very slim hope Tunisia had of progressing from the group stages, although you wouldn’t put it past them to hold England to a dour draw. Beating Panama in their final fixture is a must.
Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab), Moez Hassan (Chateauroux), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Batin)
Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa), Dylan Bronn (Ghent), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek)
Midfielders: Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Al Ahly Jeddah), Ghaylene Chaalali (Esperance), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Seifeddine Khaoui (Troyes), Wahbi Khazri (Stade Rennes), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nassr), Elyes Skhiri (Montpellier),
Forwards: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ittifaq), Anice Badri (Esperance), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Naim Sliti (Dijon), Bassem Srarfi (Nice).