Tunisia arrive at their sixth World Cup with low expectations after squeezing through African qualifying, and they will hope their status as Group D underdogs helps lift the pressure to pull off a surprise.
They won only two games of five in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, one of which was against lowly Mauritania, while qualification for the World Cup was not much more impressive: they managed to edge out Mali over two legs thanks to a single Malian own goal, and look on paper like the weakest of the five African teams in Qatar (Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco and African champions Senegal make up the quintet).
Manager Jalel Kadri does not have a huge pool of talent to choose from but there are some familiar names to followers of English football, including former Sunderland winger Wahbi Khazri, now at Montpellier, the teenage Birmingham City midfielder Hannibal Mejbri on loan from Manchester United, and the former Southampton defender Yan Valery, who joined French side Angers this summer. Khazri is the second-highest goalscorer in the country’s history with 24 from 69 caps.
Tunisia have two World Cup wins to their name – first against Mexico in 1978, then 40 years later with victory over Panama at Russia 2018. Now they take on the reigning champions France, in-form Denmark and Australia, and realistically a win over the Socceroos is essential if they are to pull off a shock and progress to the World Cup knockout rounds for the first time in their history.
Kadri has called it his “personal ambition” to achieve just that. He won the Kirin Cup in June, but hinted he could quit if Tunisia fails to get out of the group stage in Qatar. “It's my personal ambition. If we don't get through, I will not have succeeded in my mission, despite how tough the task is,” Kadri said. “We want to make our dream come true and get through to the knockout round at the sixth time of asking.”
Here is everything you need to know:
Group fixtures (all times GMT)
Tuesday 22 November: Denmark vs Tunisia – 13:00
Saturday 26 November: Tunisia vs Australia – 10:00
Wednesday 30 November: Tunisia vs France – 15:00
Ones to watch
Star – Youssef Msakni: The 31-year-old captain has 17 international goals in 84 caps, and if Tunisia are to pull off a shock at this World Cup he will almost certainly be at the heart of it. Msakni will be one of the few players at the tournament to play his football in Qatar (outside the Qatari team itself) having spent the past two years on loan at Doha-based Al-Arabi, so he will feel more at home than most when the World Cup kicks off.
Breakout talent – Hannibal Mejbri: The 19-year-old may not have had many opportunities for Manchester United so far in his young career but he has been given plenty of playing time with the Tunisian national team, who wooed him away from France, the country of his birth whom he played for at under-16 level. Mejbri has been handed plenty of responsibility in his 18 caps and typically wears the No 10 shirt. Now the all-action midfielder will get the chance to show his talents on the greatest stage.
Goalkeepers: Aymen Dahmen (Club Sportif Sfaxien), Mouez Hassan (Club Africain), Bechir Ben Said (US Monastir), Aymen Mathlouthi (Etoile du Sahel).
Defenders: Ali Abdi (Caen), Mohamed Drager (FC Luzern), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly), Wajdi Kechrida (Atromitos), Nader Ghandri (Club Africain), Yassine Meriah (Esperance), Bilel Ifa (Kuwait FC), Dylan Bronn (Salernitana), Montassar Talbi (Lorient).
Midfielders: Ellyes Skhiri (FC Cologne), Ghaylen Chaalali (Esperance), Aissa Laidouni (Ferencvaros), Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane (Esperance), Ferjani Sassi (Al-Duhail), Hannibal Mejbri (Birmingham City).
Forwards: Youssef Msakni (Al Arabi SC), Seifeddine Jaziri (Zamalek), Naim Sliti (Ettifaq), Issam Jebali (Odense), Taha Yassine Khenissi (Kuwait SC), Anis Ben Slimane (Brondby), Wahbi Khazri (Montpellier).
Odds to win the World Cup (taken from Betfair)
Only Saudi Arabia and Costa Rica have worse odds to win this World Cup than Tunisia. They have been drawn a tough group and there is little to suggest they will pull off a miracle and reach the knockout rounds. Any win would be a great achievement in itself. Knocked out in the group stage.
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