Tunisia

Population: 10,100,000
Area: 163,610 km²
Capital: Tunis
Language: Arabic

 
THE ROAD TO GERMANY
Tunisia won CAF group 5 a single point ahead of Morocco.
Click here for details

 
MATCHES IN 2006
Jan 12 Tunisia v Libya 1-0
Jan 15 Tunisia v Ghana 2-0
Jan 22 Tunisia v Zambia 4-1
Jan 26 Tunisia v South Africa 2-0
Jan 30 Tunisia v Guinea 0-3
Feb 04 Tunisia v Nigeria 1-1
Mar 01 Tunisia v Serbia & M. 0-1
May 30 Tunisia v Belarus 3-0
Jun 02 Tunisia v Uruguay 0-0
Jun 07 Tunisia v Iran

 
WORLD CUP HISTORY
Participations: (3) 1978, 1998 and 2002
Best placing: First round exit every time
Topscorers: Mokhtar Dhouieb Ali Kaabi, Nejib Ghommidh, Skander Souayah and Raouf Bouzaiene, 1 goal

 
FIRST ROUND MATCHES
Jun 14 - TUN v KSA  in Munich
Jun 19 - TUN v SPA  in Stuttgart
Jun 23 - TUN v UKR  in Berlin

 
PWC STAFF VERDICT
- Tunisia in Group H -
Jan Alsos: 3rd place
Pierre Boisrond: 3rd place
Ruud Doevendans: 3rd place
Mike Gibbons: 3rd place
Peter Goldstein: 3rd place
Paul Marcuccitti: 2nd place
Felipe Santos: 3rd place
PREDICTION: First round exit



CARTHAGE EAGLES, AFRICA'S BEST HOPE?


by Peter Goldstein


    When the final-round results of the African qualifiers came over the wire, there was worldwide rejoicing. Four debutantes--could you believe it? An unprecedented turnover, an unprecedented thrill. The only disappointment, everyone agreed, was the fifth team. Reactions varied from “Oh, no, not Tunisia again!” to “Anything but that!” to “I won’t watch, I refuse to watch!” It’s hard to remember when a team’s success was greeted with such universal dismay.

    You can’t say they didn’t earn it. Argentina 1978, when the Carthage Eagles had one of the most exciting sides at the tournament, was a very long time ago. In 1998 they were mediocre, in 2002 considerably less. To make it worse, they were downright boring.

    Unfortunately, this year’s side may be no more exciting--but they may be significantly more successful. Under Roger Lemerre they’ve developed into a poised, competitive unit, one which knows how to play against top opposition. They won’t curl into a ball like they did against England in 1998, or for that matter Russia and Japan in 2002. They’ll test their opponents to the fullest, and in a relatively weak group, have a genuine chance to advance to the second round for the first time in their history.

    The key to Lemerre’s approach is an unimaginative but aggressive midfield, which forces opponents into mistakes and makes few of their own. The anchor is veteran Riadh Bouazizi (Kayseri Erciyesspor), a virtuoso kamikaze destroyer who plays his club football in Turkey. He has a little skill, but is best at intimidation; he’s also a good bet to pick up the side’s first yellow card. On the left is Adel Chedli (Nürnberg), slow but with excellent technique, a two-footed player who can link defense and attack, and also provide the necessary cross. On the right should be Hamed Namouchi (Rangers), who for a wonder actually has creative potential. He’s very good on the ball, likes to go at his man, and can find his teammates as well. But at times he seems stifled by Lemerre’s conservative approach, and plays as unambitiously as the rest. If extra defense is needed, we’ll probably see Jawhar Mnari (Nürnberg), a solid all-round technical type; if extra attack, Chaouki Ben Saada (Bastia), a bit of a wild man, but who at least has the daring the side otherwise lacks. An X-factor is hard man Mehdi Nafti (Birmingham City), a former regular, just returned to training after a long-term knee injury.

    That leaves the fourth midfielder, who in Lemerre’s scheme plays an attacking role behind the strikers. The logical choice is Selim Benachour (Vitoria Guimaraes), a small, active, clever player who first emerged during the 2002 World Cup. At the time he looked like the future playmaker, but since then he’s been erratic, and Lemerre doesn’t seem to trust him. He’s likely to get the start against Saudi Arabia, where goals are a priority, but otherwise he may come off the bench. At the Nations Cup in Egypt, Lemerre preferred Sofiane Melliti (Vorskla Poltava). He’s big and aggressive, but with limited skills--really just another man to pressure the opposition into mistakes.

    If the midfielders can create the chances, there’s a striker who can score them, Francileudo Dos Santos (Toulouse). He’s a naturalized Brazilian, although you’d never know it to watch him play. Average skills, no flair, no creativity--he might as well be Swiss. But he’s very intelligent, times his runs perfectly, and knows exactly how to find space and put the ball in the net. He’s had a poor season at Toulouse, and whether he has the class to trouble Ukraine and Spain is unclear. But the Saudis should definitely find him a handful. His partner is Ziad Jaziri (Troyes), who tends to roam around the wings. He’s the best dribbler on the squad, who uses his pace and one-on-one moves to get past defenders and set up chances. Relief should be provided by young Haykel Guemamdia (Strasbourg), strong, with deceptive pace and a creative streak.

    The back four is solid. The big man in the middle is still Radhi Jaidi (Bolton). He may not be pretty, but he’s powerful, excellent in the air, reads well, and has been known to make ordinary strikers disappear. His most likely partner is Karim Hagui (Strasbourg), intelligent, technical rather than physical. He’s reliable if not remarkable. Grand old man Khaled Badra (Esperance) was a surprise recall in a recent friendly; he won’t crack the starting lineup, but Lemerre might want to bring him along for experienced backup.

    At right back is one of the team’s genuine stars, Hatem Trabelsi of Ajax. Pacy, stylish, an aggressive attacker, he brings some much-needed dynamism to the side. If he and Namouchi can combine on the right, they’ll be the most effective avenue of attack. Left back is the trouble spot. Right now the candidates are José Clayton (Al-Sadd), another naturalized Brazilian, of 1998 vintage, and Anis Ayari (Samsunspor). With his size, experience, and occasional free kick prowess, Clayton has the edge. Ayari may be a bit more technical, but neither is unlikely to do anything memorable. A tantalizing possibility is David Jemmali of Bordeaux, smooth and skilled, better on defense than attack, who after years of holding out has finally agreed to join the squad. He’s by nature a right back, but that’s Trabelsi’s territory, and he might be convinced to play on his off side. (Another possibility for Jemmali is in the middle, either beside Jaidi or as backup.)

    The keeper is Ali Boumnijel (Club Africain), which is hard to believe. He’s 39 now, and wildly inconsistent--he’ll make the great save and the disastrous mistake in the same game--but there’s still no replacement. He’s potentially the weakest link, and all the more reason for the team to keep pressing the opposition.

    Tunisia hardly cut a dashing figure, and even at their best do it more on graft than skill. But that’s the point--under Lemerre they seem to have the touch of steel that’s been missing all those years. Even the 1978 squad, as brilliant as they were, missed that last bit of confidence against the European powers. At the Confederations Cup in 2005, Tunisia beat Australia, played unafraid of Germany and Argentina, and gained a significant measure of self-belief. In 2006 the competition is a bit easier. Spain may be out of their reach, but Ukraine are untested debutantes, and Saudi Arabia haven’t been competitive for a long time. With a break or two, Tunisia can make the second round--and let’s hope that Namouchi, Trabelsi, or Jaziri do something to make the experience enjoyable.


 

 

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