This article is part of the Guardian’s World Cup 2022 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who qualified. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 20 November.
Tunisia changed coach in January, Jalel Kadri replacing Mondher Kebaier, but are playing with the same system they have done for years. After all, they did reach the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals this year, and the semi-finals in 2019.
Most of the players who played at the 2018 World Cup are still in the squad but since 2019 a good deal of work has been done to attract new dual-nationality players such as Hannibal Mejbri, Aïssa Laïdouni, Omar Rekik, Yan Valery, Chaïm El Djebali and Anis Ben Slimane.
They arrive at the World Cup in good shape. The 5-1 defeat to Brazil in September was Tunisia’s first under Kadri. They won the Kirin Cup in Japan after beating Chile 2-0 and the hosts 3-0, their first victory over Japan.
Of the Brazil defeat Kadri said: “We respected Brazil too much. We were by no means unworthy in the second half, but we were completely overwhelmed at the start of the match. It was still a good test against a team that has big ambitions for the World Cup. We must not be ashamed of the result and we must learn from our mistakes.”
One concern is that the 32-year-old captain, Youssef Msakni, sustained an injury playing for Al Arabi in the Qatar Stars League. He missed the 2018 World Cup with a cruciate ligament injury but he seems to have recovered well this time.
Kadri usually deploys an offensively minded 4-3-3 formation, but uses a 4-5-1 against better teams. Strong midfielders are key.
Tunisia topped their qualifying group before beating Mali 1-0 on aggregate to secure their sixth World Cup appearance.
The open-minded 50-year-old Jalel Kadri was appointed manager after several head coaching jobs at clubs in Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Libya. He has also twice been an assistant coach for Tunisia. The public fell in love with him when he oversaw a precious victory over Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations in January while the then manager, Mondher Kebaier, was absent with Covid-19. After the tournament Kadri was given the top job and has lost only one game, registering five victories and two draws, with seven clean sheets. “If we do not reach the knockout phase, I will leave,” Kadri said recently on TV. “I have a contract based on results and being eliminated from the group stage will be a failure for me.”
Youssef Msakni. Maybe people in Tunisia dreamed of a better club career for Msakni but he chose to join Al Duhail in Qatar in 2013 and his only spell in Europe was six months with KAS Eupen in Belgium. He is a key player for Tunisia though, providing solutions in difficult situations. This World Cup may be his last and the fans are expecting a lot. They know what he is capable of but can be critical.
Aïssa Laïdouni. The 25-year-old Ferencvaros midfielder chose to play for Tunisia ahead of Algeria and France. Calm with the ball and very efficient in his play, he has played 24 times since he joined the national team setup in March 2021. Has the potential to be a hero at the World Cup and his talent is sure to attract the interest of elite European clubs. Tunisians expect he will leave Ferencvaros soon.
Players in Tunisia avoid talking about problems outside sport. In addition, more than 30,000 Tunisians work and live in Qatar, while many players and technical staff are with Qatari clubs. Qatar and Tunisia are Muslim nations, and they have a strong relationship. Human rights concerns have not even been discussed in the media. For the players, staff and administrators issues beyond sport are not forbidden topics but nor are they a priority.
Ḥumāt al-Ḥimá (Defenders of the Homeland) is the national anthem of Tunisia. The text was written in the 1930s by the Lebanese-born Egyptian poet Mostafa Saadeq Al-Rafe’ie and Tunisian poet Aboul-Qacem Echebbi, who wrote the last verses (1955). The music is written by Ahmed Kheireddine. The national anthem was adopted in November 1987 and is popular one. The chorus translates as: “O defenders of the Homeland! Rally around to the glory of our time! The blood surges in our veins! We die for the sake of our land.”
All-time cult heroes
Many players have made history for Tunisia, but the best-known ones are Tarek Dhiab, who was African player of the year in 1977, and Hamadi Agrebi. The pair were in the squad at Argentina 78 and contributed to Tunisia’s first World Cup victory, a 3-1 win over Mexico in Rosario. Dhiab works for beIN Sports while Agrebi died in 2020.
Adala Ahmed works for Radio Mosaique FM. Follow him here on Twitter.