Tunisia World Cup squad guide: Full fixtures, group, ones to watch, odds and more

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Liam Twomey
Sunday 10 June 2018 12:58 BST
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Tunisia’s first World Cup appearance since 2006 might have been derailed before it starts. In April, star man and top scorer in qualifying Youssef Msakni was ruled out of the tournament after tearing a cruciate ligament – a scenario that national team boss Nabil Maaloul had earlier equated to Argentina trying to compete in Russia without Lionel Messi.

Influential starters Ghaylene Chaalali, Mohamed Amine Ben Amor and Ali Maaloul have also dealt with injuries in recent months despite making the final 23-man squad, and it is far from clear whether Tunisia will be physically capable of reproducing the performance level that got them to the tournament in an unforgiving group.

Maaloul, in his third spell as Tunisia coach, has built a solid, spirited team that is more than the sum of its largely unremarkable parts. Wahbi Khazri, who spent the season on loan at Rennes from Sunderland, will be under pressure to make the difference in attack with Msakni absent, though Dijon winger Naim Sliti is also capable of adding a touch of guile and thrust.

Tunisia are not quite the threat they would have been three months ago, but Belgium and England will underestimate them at their own peril.

Fixtures

Tunisia vs England – 19:00, Monday 18 June
Tunisia vs Belgium – 13:00, Saturday 23 June
Tunisia vs Panama – 19:00, Thursday 28 June

Key players

Wahbi Khazri: His career at Sunderland may have fizzled out on the club’s relegation from the Premier League, but Khazri continues to be of huge importance to Tunisia. He enters the tournament on the back of a good season on loan at Rennes that saw him score nine goals in 24 Ligue 1 appearances, and his set-piece quality will also be a useful weapon for a team that could struggle to find the net.


 Wahbi Khazri heads into the tournament on the back of an encouraging season at Rennes 
 (AFP/Getty Images)

Mohamed Amine Ben Amor: The hub of Tunisia’s midfield, Ben Amor steadies his team with and without the ball, breaking up opposition attacks and playing intelligent, progressive passes. There has already been speculation linking him with a move to Germany and a positive showing at the World Cup could drive his stock even higher, but he is unlikely to be fully fit having undergone surgery in April.

Naim Sliti: Born in Marseille, Sliti has established himself as a key threat for Tunisia since making his debut two years ago. He operates on the left flank, from where he uses his pace and dribbling skill to cut in on his right foot and either shoot or slip in teammates with incisive passes. Dijon certainly benefited from his gifts; he contributed seven goals and six assists in Ligue 1 this season.

One to watch

Saif-Eddine Khaoui: Tunisia badly need to find someone to replace the spark in the final third that Msakni provided during qualification, and Paris-born Khaoui is a strong candidate for the job. Contracted to Marseille, he impressed on loan at Troyes this season with a highly-polished left foot and knack for making goalscoring runs, and he could have a big impact despite only earning his first cap in March.

How did they get here?

Handed one of the more favourable groups in the African qualifying section, Tunisia took 10 points from a possible 12 from their matches against Libya and Guinea while battling Democratic Republic of Congo for top spot. A dogged rearguard action provided the foundation for a 2-1 home win in Rades, while two goals within the space of two minutes helped snatch a 2-2 draw in Kinshasa that saw The Eagles of Carthage secure first place by a single point.

Msakni scored three goals in his four appearances, while a stingy defence conceded just four goals and kept three clean sheets in six group games.

How will they do?

The schedule has done Tunisia no favours. Their most winnable group match against Panama also happens to be their final one, meaning they could be eliminated quickly if things go badly early on. Belgium are clear favourites to top Group G so it is vital that Tunisia do not lose to England if they hope to progress.

Realistically a third-place finish is the level of this team, and reaching the round of 16 – particularly without Msakni – would be cause for national celebration.

Odds of winning the tournament: 500/1

Full squad

Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha, Moez Hassen, Aymen Mathlouthi.

Defenders: Rami Bedoui, Yohan Benalouane, Syam Ben Youssef, Dylan Bronn, Oussama Haddadi, Ali Maaloul, Yassine Meriah, Hamdi Nagguez.

Midfielders: Anice Badri, Mohamed Amine Ben Amor, Ghaylene Chaalali, Ahmed Khalil, Saif-Eddine Khaoui, Ferjani Sassi, Ellyes Skhiri, Naim Sliti, Bassem Srarfi.

Forwards: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, Saber Khalifa, Wahbi Khazri.

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