Tunisia focused on ensuring World Cup qualification

Youssef Msakni has ordered his teammates to ensure World Cup qualification at home to Libya today. (AFP)
Updated 11 November 2017
0

Tunisia focused on ensuring World Cup qualification

LONDON: Tunisia may only need a point against Libya to guarantee a place at next year’s World Cup, but Youssef Msakni has told his team that’s no excuse to take their foot off the gas.
The Carthage Eagles go into today’s clash on top of African qualifying Group A thanks to an impressive run of form that has seen Nabil Maaloul’s men record four wins and one draw from their five matches so far. That means they go into the game in Rades tonight on the verge of their fifth appearance at the finals and first since 2006.
Although it is hard to imagine Tunisia failing against Libya — who have just one win from their five Group A matches — a 1-0 defeat coupled with a 1-0 win for DR Congo over Guinea in Kinshasa would send the central Africans to Russia. And that combined with the fact Libya will prove no easy test tonight has led Msakni to warn his teammates against complacency.
“We’re not afraid of Libya, but we have to be wary because they have a history and it’s never easy to play against them,” the Tunisia forward said.
“I don’t remember us ever beating them easily, or them beating us easily. These games always end up finishing 1-0 or 2-1.
“This match is a matter of life and death for the Tunisia team. We’ll need to be well prepared and focused right from kick-off.”
Anticipating a tight contest Msakni has called on the crowd, desperate to see their team make next summer’s showpiece in Russia, to become the extra man and cheer Tunisia to victory.
“It’s always wonderful to give our supporters something to cheer and to hear them chanting ‘Tunisia, Tunisia,’” he said.
“I ask them all to come to the stadium in Rades and support us against Libya.”

The sharpshooter has been one of the key men for the Carthage Eagles. He scored a hat-trick in the 4-1 win in Guinea and is enjoying his time in the spotlight on what he hopes will be his way to the World Cup.
“There’s no secret,” Msakni said. “I’m working extra hard in training and the rest is down to God. Added to that, the quality of my team-mates is another reason for my success. And the coach, Nabil Maaloul, has also given me more freedom on the pitch.”
But he is all too aware that it will take more than a good game from him to ensure qualification. Msakni has been impressed with Tunisia’s midfield and knows they’ll have to be on the top of their game to make sure tonight’s test against Libya doesn’t turn into a nervy affair.
“The Tunisia team has played with real determination in the last few games, and that’s down to the three players in midfield,” he said. “Ferjani Sassi, Ghailene Chaalali and Mohamed Amine Ben Amor have all made it possible for us to move forward, and they’ve brought us what we were lacking.”


Belief running high for Saudi Arabia’s Young Falcons

Updated 28 sec ago
0

Belief running high for Saudi Arabia’s Young Falcons

JAKARTA: Saudi Arabia’s football team are doing things differently at the Asian Games this month. The three-week tournament is open to players aged under-23, with countries having the option to select three over-age players. The result is hosts Indonesia have selected a 37-year-old naturalized Brazilian and South Korea, whose players can avoid mandatory military service if they win gold, have called upon Heung-min Son, the Tottenham Hotspur forward.
Saudi Arabia, in contrast, have brought their Under-21 team. Coach Saad Al-Shehri, who has been in charge of the side for three years, does not shy from the fact his Young Falcons are here primarily to gain experience and develop ahead of a crucial U23 Asian Championships, which offers direct qualification to the Olympic Games. Yet ,he is also aware the deeper his side go this month, the more it will ultimately benefit the Kingdom’s Tokyo 2020 objective.
“We are playing here with an Under-21 team in a tournament that is for Under-23s,” he said. “But I believe in these players. I worked with them at the Under-20 World Cup in 2017 in Korea and this team is the future of Saudi Arabia. I do not doubt that, and the Federation is in agreement.
“The players need more experience, more games and strong tournaments, but we all believe in them and our work will continue on this path. This is the squad that we want to qualify for Tokyo.”
Al-Shehri arrived at the Games playing down the importance of results and focusing on performances, but after two games in Jakarta, his team sit joint-top of Group F alongside Iran, with whom they drew 0-0 in their opening game. A comfortable 3-0 victory over Myanmar on Friday means progress to the knock-out stages is all but secure, with today’s match against North Korea offering an opportunity to secure an easier Round of 16 draw.
Finalists in 2014, North Korea were expected to prove the most difficult opponent of the group stage, yet a draw with Myanmar and a 3-0 humbling by Iran have altered expectations for both sides. Al-Shehri, who will be without key playmaker Ayman Al-Khulaif today through suspension, is now expected to make several changes to avoid fatigue in what will be the Young Falcons’ third game in five days.
“I have 20 players and trust them all,” Al-Shehri told Arab News. “I am confident we can play a good game against North Korea because we have players hungry and waiting to take their chance. Everybody is ready to play and be involved. Whether we win or lose… all we want is to play games. We need to play more games to improve and the further in the tournament we go, the more games we play, so if we get to the final it’s very good for us regardless. Every single game we play between now and the Tokyo qualifiers is very important for us.”
Al-Khulaif, 21, has been instrumental in his side’s results so far, proving a constant outlet on the right of midfield and drawing nine fouls, including two penalties. The Al-Ahli playmaker made his Pro League debut last season, coming on as a 90th minute substitute for Taiser Al-Jassem against Ohod, and will hope this tournament can help him catch the eye of new Al-Ahli boss Pablo Guede.
Forced to sit out today’s match, he is looking to the positives. “I am sad to miss the next game, but I trust fully in my teammates to get a good result and it gives me a chance to rest and, inshallah, prepare better for the knock-out stages.”