Monday 24 September 2018

Focus on Tunisia ahead of their World Cup opener against England

Les Aigles de Carthage are at their fifth World Cup finals.

Leicester’s Yohan Benalouane is expected to start for Tunisia (Anthony Devlin/EMPICS)
Leicester’s Yohan Benalouane is expected to start for Tunisia (Anthony Devlin/EMPICS)

By Simon Peach, Press Association Chief Football Writer, Volgograd

England finally get their World Cup campaign under way against Tunisia on Monday evening.

Ahead of the Group G encounter in Volgograd, Press Association Sport’s Simon Peach takes a closer look at the North African side.

How did they get to Russia?

Tunisia ended their 12-year absence from the world’s biggest sporting event after navigating through a rather weak group of Libya, Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Important wins over the latter two countries was followed with a draw in the final game against Libya.

What is their World Cup pedigree?

Les Aigles de Carthage are at their fifth World Cup finals, having first stepped foot onto the global stage in 1978. Their 3-1 victory against Mexico in that edition made them the first African team to win a game at the finals. However, they failed to win a match in the 1998, 2002 or 2006 editions, so arrive in Russia looking to make it out of the group for the first time ever.

Who is the coach?

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Nabil Maaloul took over from Henryk Kasperczak (pictured) last year (Matthew Ashton/EMPICS)

Despite Tunisia leading their World Cup qualifying group, a frustrating display at the African Nations Cup saw Henryk Kasperczak sacked. Into the breach came former national team player Nabil Maaloul for his second time. A former midfielder who won 74 caps and spent a period in Germany with Hannover, the 55-year-old has coached teams in Tunisia and Qatar, as well as the Kuwait national team.

What can we expect from them?

Maaloul likes his team to try and impose their game on opponents and regularly played with a 4-3-3 formation in World Cup qualification. But Tunisia’s tactics are expected to evolve in Russia to cope with the pace and quality at England’s disposal. There may be a temptation to complement the fluid frontline with a five-man backline, but a preference for a four-strong defence worked well in the warm-up friendlies.

What is their recent form?

After 1-0 wins against Iran and Costa Rica in March, Tunisia secured an impressive 2-2 draw against Portugal in Braga last month. June started with another 2-2 draw against Turkey, before a narrow 1-0 loss to star-studded Spain in Krasnodar.

Who is the player to watch?

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Leicester’s Yohan Benalouane is set to start (Nigel French/PA)

Tunisia boast some technically proficient players, but star turn Youssef Msakni is out of the World Cup after sustaining a cruciate knee injury in March. Leicester defender Yohan Benalouane is set to start after finally accepting the call to play for the country of his parents, but the key man could well be Wahbi Khazri. A talented if frustrating figure, his fine spell on loan at Rennes from embattled Sunderland last season was disrupted by a thigh injury.

Press Association

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