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2022 FIFA World Cup Preview: Tunisia

The long wait is just about over for the 2022 FIFA World Cup with five African national teams preparing to represent the continent in Qatar. Pan-Africa Football is previewing each African national team before the group stage takes place to provide a detailed guide for viewers and supporters of African football to refer to throughout the competition. Next up in our series is a deep look at the Eagles of Carthage, Tunisia, who will be competing in Group D:

Tunisia

Profile

Nickname: Carthage Eagles

FIFA Ranking: 30

Previous appearances: 1978, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2018

Best Finish: Group Stage (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2018)

Schedule

Group D

November 22: Tunisia vs. Denmark

November 26: Tunisia vs. Australia

November 30: Tunisia vs. France

Manager

Jalel Kadri

Kadri’s appointment in January following the departure of Mondher Kebaier was not met with enthusiasm by Tunisian supporters due to the fact that he was an assistant of Kebaier. However, over time he has earned their respect even if a foreign coach was the more preferred option. The 50-year-old’s first matches in charge were in the playoff round of World Cup qualifying against Mali and despite not having star forward Wahbi Khazri to call upon the Carthage Eagles managed to squeak past 1-0 on aggregate. Since then Kadri’s team got off to a positive start in 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying and surprised at Japan’s Kirin Cup where Tunisia won the four-team friendly competition with a 3-0 victory over the hosts in the final.

Undefeated in his first seven matches in charge the team finally were defeated in a September friendly, losing 5-1 to World Cup favorites Brazil. Kadri will line his team up with one striker, perhaps in a 4-2-2-2-1 formation with attacking fullbacks and three central midfielders. Expect Kadri’s team to keep matches close with his greatest challenge being to find a way for Tunisia to produce goals without a dependable striker to lead the forward line. Tunisia’s two central midfielders are the team’s greatest strength but Kadri’s other major challenge will be protecting his attacking fullbacks from getting exposed on the defensive end.

Expected Formation

Goalkeepers

16. Aymen Dahmen (CS Sfaxien- Tunisia)
Appearances: 4

Bechir Ben Saïd was the choice of Kadri’s predecessor Mondher Kebaier and Kadri initially stuck with the US Monastir shot stopper in his first four competitive matches. However, unsure performances from Ben Saïd allowed Dahmen to get an opportunity at the Kirin Cup and the 25-year-old CS Sfaxien keeper was excellent, winning the endorsement of Kadri who publicly stated that Dahmen will be his starter in Qatar. Calm when distributing with very good reflexes on shots from inside his penalty area, Dahmen has looked much more composed than Ben Saïd and appears to be not only Tunisia’s goalkeeper of the future but for now as well.

22. Bechir Ben Saïd (US Monastir- Tunisia)
Appearances: 10

Possesses good reflexes but has moments of instability that results in mistakes on aerial balls, a major reason why Kadri elected to declare Dahmen as his starter in Qatar. Capable backup if he is needed but has yet to impress against stronger teams.

1. Aymen Mathlouthi (Étoile du Sahel- Tunisia)
Appearances: 78

The 38-year-old popularly known as “Balbouli” has been part of Tunisia’s team for six Africa Cup of Nations tournaments and played one match at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, a 2-1 victory against Panama. A legend at Tunisian side Étoile du Sahel with over 300 appearances for the club, Mathlouthi figures to be an experienced leader in the Tunisia team who can step in if there is an injury crisis at the position.

26. Mouez Hassan (Club Africain)
Appearances: 20

Another experienced player in the goalkeeper group for Tunisia, the 27-year-old born in France started the final four matches for the Carthage Eagles during their run to the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup final. Has not featured since then and is expected to be a backup.

Defenders

3. Montassar Talbi (FC Lorient- France)
Appearances: 22
Goals: 1

In contrast to the majority of his fellow defenders in the Tunisia team, Talbi is relatively young at 24-years-old but is the standout at center back. Excellent on aerial duels, a capable passer and reliable in the tackle while committing very few fouls. A graduate of the Espérance ST youth academy and made his debut for Tunisia’s most successful club at the age of 18. Talbi is highly regarded by Tunisian supporters and will be crucial in a team that likely needs to keep games low scoring to succeed.

20. Mohamed Dräger (Luzern- Switzerland)
Appearances: 33
Goals: 3

A right back or midfielder with an incredible engine and work rate who is at his best when getting forward. Dräger appears to be a guaranteed starter in Qatar with good form for club and country in the buildup. The only complaints from Tunisian supporters is that the 26-year-old can be a bit erratic with his crossing and also that Dräger is an average defender.

12. Ali Maâloul (Al Ahly- Egypt)
Appearances: 82
Goals: 2

Possesses the best left foot in African club football. The 32-year-old left back was the leading scorer during the 2015-16 Tunisia Ligue 1 Professionnelle season with hometown club CS Sfaxien, winning the 2013 CAF Confederation Cup as well before moving to Egyptian and African giants Al Ahly in Egypt. Excellent on set piece deliveries and at getting forward to provide crosses along with an eye for goal. A key part of four Egyptian Premier League titles for Ahly and won back-to-back CAF Champions League titles with the Cairo club.

6. Dylan Bronn (Salernitana- Italy)
Appearances: 36
Goals: 2

Born in Cannes, Bronn is a tough and versatile defender with decent technical ability whose natural position is in the center of defense but he can also operate at right back like he did for Tunisia at the 2018 World Cup. After starting every match in the group stage of qualifying under previous coach Kebaier, Bronn has only featured once for Kadri, getting sent off with a straight red card in the first half during Tunisia’s 5-1 friendly defeat to Brazil. Based on his previous record and current strong club form with Italian Serie A side Salernitana, Bronn is likely to start but Kadri may go with another of his veteran options.

24. Ali Abdi (Caen- France)
Appearances: 9
Goals: 1

One of the best fullbacks in France’s second tier Ligue 2 with speed and skill when attacking down the left flank, Abdi is making a major push for the starting position in Qatar after splitting time with veteran Ali Maâloul over the past year. Under Kadri the native of Sfax has started four of Tunisia’s last six matches and played every minute as Tunisia surprised many by winning the 2022 Kirin Cup exhibition tournament. At this point it appears that Abdi may have the edge over Maâloul.

4. Yassine Meriah (Espérance ST- Tunisia)
Appearances: 60
Goals: 3

A somewhat controversial choice from Kadri after only returning to action in the last month following a long-term knee injury. However the 29-year-old has a highly decorated career that saw him make the Team of the Tournament for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations along with experience playing in Europe. Brings leadership and strong ability in the air.

2. Bilel Ifa (Kuwait SC- Kuwait)
Appearances: 36
Goals: 0

A powerfully built center back who adds to the experience of the Tunisian defense, Ifa is an accomplished player with two Tunisian championships and two Tunisia Cup wins to his name from a fifteen year spell at Club Africain. Started every match of Tunisia’s run to the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup final as well as every match in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations where the Carthage Eagles reached the quarterfinals.

5. Nader Ghandri (Club Africain- Tunisia)
Appearances: 7
Goals: 0

The giant center back is a threat on set pieces, scoring three goals during the playoff stage of the 2021-22 Tunisia Ligue 1 Professionnelle for Club Africain. Started both legs of the crucial World Cup qualifying playoff against Mali with both matches ending in clean sheets for the Carthage Eagles. Has become a reliable backup for Kadri in 2022, making six of his seven appearances this year after spending nearly three years out of the Tunisia team.

21. Wajdi Kechrida (Atromitos- Greece)
Appearances: 18
Goals: 0

The 27-year-old former Étoile du Sahel player is capable when moving forward and retains possession well because of his intelligence on the ball. Has not featured in over a year for Tunisia but has plenty of experience and is a steady player who can step in if there is an injury to starter Mohamed Dräger.

Midfielders

14. Aïssa Laïdouni (Ferencváros- Hungary)
Appearances: 24
Goals: 1

Laïdouni continues to excel with Hungarian champions Ferencváros, showing his quality in the UEFA Europa League as well as Hungary’s top division. An absolute warrior in the center of the park when he plays with Tunisia who can also contribute moving forward if asked. Where Laïdouni succeeds most is in his willingness to get involved on the defensive end with fierce tackling and a quality where it appears he is everywhere on the pitch due to his work rate. An important part of the Tunisian midfield who has established himself as a key contributor at national team level.

17. Ellyes Skhiri (FC Köln- Germany)
Appearances: 48
Goals: 3