World Cup 2006 Preview – Tunisia
Outright Odds: 300/1
Group H Winners: 10/1
Tunisia qualified for their third straight finals in dramatic fashion in the final round of fixtures. They needed just a point against arch-rivals Morocco but were trailing 2-1 until Nuremberg midfielder Adel Chadli netted the crucial equaliser 20 minutes from the end.
Tunisia had not lost at home to Morocco in 45 years and the draw in Rades ensured they qualified ahead of their rivals. Morocco ironically remained unbeaten in 10 matches but finished one point behind Tunisia who qualified for a place in Germany ahead of them.
Since beating Mexico in their first ever World Cup match in 1979, Tunisia have failed to win another since so it’s not difficult to see why most of the media fuss has been made about the four debutantes from Africa rather than Roger Lemerre’s side. Much was expected of them four years ago but they finished bottom of a group featuring Japan, Belgium and Russia, gaining just a point against the Belgians. They are, however, the only African side from 2002 to qualify for this World Cup.
Lemerre was heralded a saviour after Tunisia beat Morocco in the 2004 Cup of Nations and two years on, he will expect his side to make an impact on the global stage. Tunisia do not have a wealth of star players, but results have improved considerably since Lemerre took charge.
Tunisia have two solid defenders in Bolton Wanderers’ Rahdi Jaidi and Ajax full back Hatem Trabelsi who has been courted by both Arsenal and Manchester United. Goalkeeper Ali Boumnijel turned 40 in April but there are few better shot stoppers playing on the continent. The team is captained by midfielder Riadh Bouazizi, a tough tackling veteran now at Kayserispor with more than 50 caps to his name.
In attack they have the mercurial Francileudo dos Santos. Since taking Tunisian citizenship in 2004 and scoring on his debut against Benin, the Toulouse striker has netted 13 goals in 18 appearances. He scored six goals during qualifying including a four-goal salvo in the 7-0 thumping against Malawi. Nicknamed “Roadrunner” by club team mates, dos Santos has the ability to cause panic against the strongest of defences.
Of all the African qualifiers, Tunisia are the only ones who can claim they have been, seen and done it. They know what to expect as does manager Lemerre who has previous national team experience with France. They have a good opportunity to progress in this group but it depends if they are ready to step up a gear against established European opponents.
Tunisia have improved since their last World Cup appearance in 2002 but may fall short in this group against the established Spain and newcomers Ukraine. Their best chance of success will be against Saudi Arabia at odds of almost even money.
Tunisia to beat Saudi Arabia @ 10/11