Football: Tunisia torment hapless Wales

Tunisia 4 Ben Younes 18, Badra 28, pen 83, Jaballah 68 Wales 0 Attendance: 15,000
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The Independent Online
PERFORMANCES in friendlies are not necessarily pertinent (although Paul Gascoigne might argue otherwise) but on the evidence of yesterday Glenn Hoddle has reason to be concerned, if not sleep-losing worried, by his first World Cup opponents, Tunisia.

Wales, chosen by the Africans as templates for Hoddle's team, were comprehensively beaten, although the England coach would have every reason to be furious if his side provide such supine opposition tomorrow week. Faith healers might not be enough to repair the damage to expensive egos.

The Welsh dragon whimpered rather than roared, barely making a tackle in going down to goals from Imed Ben Younes, Khaled Badra (with two) and Sabri Jaballah. If the purpose was to give the Tunisians a false sense of security, then the mission was accomplished perfectly. Certainly, Paul Ince and David Batty will not give them such an easy ride.

By no stretch of the imagination can the Tunisians be said to have a World Cup pedigree. They qualified just once before, in 1978, when they beat Mexico and held the West Germans to a draw, but until they qualified for France 98 they had an even worse record in the tournament than Wales, who at least had a quarter-final to their name 40 years ago.

Until Henri Kasperczak began coaching them four years ago, Tunisian football was going backwards. Under the Pole, who played against the Tunisians in Argentina 20 years ago, they have prospered, however, reaching the quarter-finals of the African Nations' Cup earlier this year (when they went out on penalties) and qualifying for the World Cup, conceding only two goals on the way.

Nevertheless they are regarded as the fifth-best African side to qualify (out of five) and Kasperczak has been nervously changing his line-up, to much local dissatisfaction. "My players have to understand they have to concentrate for 90 minutes," he said. "One small mistake against England and we'll be in trouble.

"England are not playing well at the moment but they will be right for the start of the World Cup. But my team are progressing too, and I'm sure they'll be ready."

Much of the criticism aimed at Kasperczak, who was in the Polish team that qualified ahead of England in 1974, is over his treatment of his playmaker, Zubeir Beya. He was dropped for a friendly against Austria and also blotted his World Cup application form when he lambasted his coach during the Nations' Cup.

Still, Beya made it to the 22-strong squad, which puts him one up on Gazza even if he did not start yesterday. Not that the Tunisians appeared to need him. A fluid 3-5-2 formation, with Skander Souayah and Ferid Chouchane launching passes like quarterbacks, had Wales chasing shadows from the start.

After nine minutes Sami Trabelsi had a free header from Souayah's free- kick but headed down and across the goal rather than at it. No matter, nine minutes later the Tunisians went ahead with a goal that owed as much to Welsh shortcomings as home innovation. Chouchane's long ball was aimed for Adel Sellimi's run to the right but, with Chris Coleman in attendance and Andy Marriott coming out for the back-pass, the danger should have been dealt with. Instead the ball rebounded back to Ben Younes, who side- footed into an empty net.

The Welsh defence had been sloppy then and it did not distinguish itself with Tunisia's second goal after 28 minutes. Badra picked up a clearance in his own half and, with the visitors backing off, he strolled forward and beat Marriott with a 25-yard shot.

Kasperczak shuffled his pack after half-time, making seven substitutions, although the pattern was barely altered. Jaballah rose unchallenged to head in a corner after 68 minutes and in the closing minutes Ryan Green completed a sorry afternoon for the Welsh by conceding a penalty. Badra calmly slotted the kick home.