Tunisia is back on the biggest stage after a twelve-year draught, and the Eagles of Carthage will have a tough task in the Group G alongside Belgium, England, and Panama. Their first game against England on June 18th, 2018, at Volgograd Arena in Volgograd, could be crucial for Tunisians if they want to reach the second round, as five days later they meet another heavyweight team Belgium at Spartak Stadium in Moscow. On June 28th, 2018, the Eagles of Carthage will be +130 favorites to win their final clash of the group phase against Panama at Mordovia Arena in Saransk.
In four partaking at the FIFA World Cup so far, the Eagles of Carthage have never reached the second round, winning just one out of their twelve games, and it was way back in Argentina 1978. Tunisia is considered as a huge out-of-towner to qualify from the group stage, according to all relevant sportsbooks, and one point out of the first two matches against England and Belgium is a must for the Eagles before they face Panama. It is hard to believe they can make upset in this competition, but huge surprises are always a common part of every FIFA World Cup tournament.
Winner: +75000 at Bet365 Sportsbook
To Reach Semi-Finals: +6600
To Reach Quarter-Finals: +1000
Group Qualifying Yes/No: +400/-600
Group Phase Matches:
Tunisia is a team mixed with players who mostly perform in French Ligue 1, and those who play across Africa and Asia, while there aren’t any big names or world stars. Likewise, the Eagles of Carthage will travel to Russia without their best player, as the 27-year old striker Youssef Msakni 51 caps, 14 goals) has suffered a knee injury playing for the Qatari side Al-Duhail, and he will be sidelined for at least three months. Msakni led Tunisia to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, so his absence will be a huge blow for the Eagles, as they don’t have a lot of quality options in the final third.
The captain of this Tunisia team is a 33-year old goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi (69 caps), while the leader of the defensive line is a 28-year old left-back Ali Maaloul (43 caps). Along Maaloui, we will probably see Syam Ben Youssef (40 caps, 1 goal) and Yassine Meriah (13 caps, 1 goal) as a centre-back duo, whilst the right-back should be Hamdi Nagguez (13 caps).
After Msakni’s injury, the leader of this team should be a 27-year old attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri (35 caps, 12 goals) from Rennes, and he’s probably the most skillful player in the squad with a lot of experience from the strongest European leagues. The 26-year old defensive midfielder Ferjani Sassi (36 caps, 2 goals) and his coeval Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (24 caps, 1 goal) will both take place in the midfield, while the 25-year old playmaker Naim Sliti could be a potential surprise off the bench.
At the front, Tunisians will have to rely on Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (31 caps, 4 goals) and Taha Yassine Khenissi (23 caps, 5 goals), but without Msakni in the team, we could see the 29-year old striker Ahmed Akaichi (29 caps, 9 goals) among 23 players for the World Cup. The head coach Nabil Maaloul is on Tunisia’s bench for the second time in his career, and he mainly prefers a defensive 4-4-2 formation, rarely changing to a 4-3-3 or a 4-5-1 formation.
The road to 2018 World Cup: Tunisia qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia after topping the African section of the World Cup qualification Group A table with 14 points, a 4-2-0 record, and a 11:4 goal difference, ahead of DR Congo, Libya, and Guinea, while three out of their six games had more than two goals in the total. At home, they’ve recorded a nil-nil draw with Libya along with two victories over DR Congo (2-1), and Guinea (2-0), while on the road, they’ve beaten Libya (1-0), and Guinea (4-1), along with a 2-2 draw against DR Congo.
Gains: The Eagles of Carthage are a pacey team who mostly relies on the strong defense, looking for scoring opportunities through a direct-passing style of play. They possess some quick and skillful players within the squad who can make real damage on the counter, or if they get a lot of space on the wing.
Shortcomings: Msakni’s injury will certainly weaken the sharpness of Tunisia’s frontline, while the remaining forwards’ abilities are quite questionable. Likewise, aerial duels could be a big issue, including defensive set-pieces.
Players to Watch: Wahbi Khazri, Ali Maaloul, Naim Sliti
Top Goalscorer: Wahbi Khazri +50000, Taha Yassine Khenissi +50000
MY PICK: Tunisia to Win against Panama (+130) – even if both these teams lose their chances to reach the second round before the third match of the group stage, I think the Eagles of Carthage will have to show they are a better team than Panama, and it is a great opportunity to win a game at the World Cup after 40 years.
ADDITIONAL PICK: Tunisia vs. England AH +1.5 (-120) – considering this is the first game of the group phase, we could easily see a patient approach on both sides, despite England is a far better team on a paper than Tunisia. Likewise, the Eagles could use their pace and mobility to torment the England team properly in this one.
Against the Odds: Tunisia to Reach the Round of 16 (+400) – I’ve already mentioned that Tunisia will have a tough task in the Group G, and I believe they will suffer a heavy defeat against Belgium, but they certainly can look for some chance in the clash with England. Anyhow, they cannot afford two losses in their first two games of the tournament if they want to make the biggest success at the World Cup in their history.