Tunisian national team coach Jalel Kadri called it a personal ambition to take his team to the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time. The Carthaginian eagle–Tunisia’s nickname–could be a dark horse in Qatar later.
“This is my personal ambition. If we don’t pass, I won’t be successful in my mission, however difficult the task may be. We want to fulfill our dream and qualify for the knockout stages,” said Kadri.
Tunisia are drawn in Group D against defending champions France who offered fearsome strikes from Kylian Mbappe and Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, then European Cup semi-finalists Denmark and Australia.
Tunisia started its journey in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers from the second round or directly fought in the group phase. Youssef Msakni et al at that time joined in Group B with Equatorial Guinea, Zambia and Mauritania.
They advanced to the third stage after topping the table with 13 points from 6 matches. The Tunisian national team finally ensured a ticket to the Qatar World Cup after beating Mali 1-0 on aggregate.
Tunisia has a bad record appearing in the World Cup. They have not made it past the group stage in five World Cup appearances. There have only been two victories achieved in his participation in the World Cup. First against Mexico in 1978 and then against Panama four years ago in Russia.
“We are very realistic. However, I will convey a message of optimism and ambition to the players, even though I know the mission is difficult. The most important thing is knowing how to overcome difficult moments in a match,” said Kadri.
Tunisia played convincingly when appearing in the 2022 Kirin Cup and in the test match in the last June period. They have three wins and a draw. Two wins were won while participating in the 2022 Kirin Cup.
At least Tunisia has prepared for Qatar the hard way, taking on five-time World Cup champions Brazil in last month’s friendly in Paris. There was hope when the Carthage Eagles leveled it at 1-1, but they ended up losing 5-1.
In that match, the way Neymar and Richarlison dismantled the Tunisian defense was a warning for Kadri to improve the game of his team. Moreover, they have to fight France with the speed of Mbappe, the ingenuity of Benzema and Antoine Griezmann.
“(We have to) decide on a clear strategy and correct our mistakes, whether they are individual or collective. Especially on a tactical level, in terms of our positional play and the phase of our game, especially in defence,” said Kadri, who was promoted from assistant coach in January 2022 after Tunisia sacked Mondher Kebaier.
This 50-year-old coach has a long coaching history with Tunisian League teams since starting his coaching career in 2008. In the Tunisian national team, he won five of the eight matches he played.
Tunisia has players who can be a focus, such as Wahbi Khazri, a versatile striker belonging to French Ligue club, Montpellier. Wahbi Khazri is a Tunisian striker who has 70 caps and has collected 24 goals. The Montpellier striker has also shown his quality in the French League this season.
Noted, Wahbi Khazri has appeared in nine matches with Montpellier. From nine appearances, he has recorded two goals and one assist in the French League 2022-2023.
“We have Wahbi Khazri, one of the leaders in the team that plays in the French League. Against France it will not be easy. But we will play as well as possible for our country,” explained Kadri.
Threatened to be crossed out
At the time of the team’s preparations to improve their poor record for the World Cup, Tunisia was actually threatened with canceling appearances in Qatar due to government interference in football affairs. Tunisia’s Minister of Youth, Sports and Professional Integration, Kamel Deguiche, made a statement about the possibility of disbanding federal bureaus, including the Tunisian Football Federation (FTF).
FIFA as the parent of world football has warned the FTF through a letter sent to the federation. FIFA considers the statement from the Tunisian minister as an attempt to intervene in the course of the FTF, which would violate FIFA statutes.
FIFA asked the FTF to clarify the statement from the Tunisian Menpora.
“Any failure to comply with these obligations may result in the imposition of penalties under FIFA law, including suspension of the relevant associations,” read a letter from the Director of FIFA Member Associations, Kenny Jean-Marie to the Secretary General of the FTF, Wajdi Aouadi. If the FTF is suspended by FIFA, the Tunisian club and national team will be banned from competing in continental and international competitions, including the World Cup. (abcnews/BBC/OL-13)