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
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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.”


Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

Updated 22 February 2019
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Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

  • World No. 4 wins third three-setter of the week beat Hsieh Su-wei and claim place in the final.
  • Swiss star Bencic deals a forehand smash to Svitolina's chances of unprecedented hat-trick.

LONDON: If Petra Kvitova does get her hands on the Dubai trophy against Belinda Bencic on Saturday, she will be quick to admit she did it the hard way.
The two-time Wimbledon champion was once again made to toil at the Aviation Club as she finally overcame Hsieh Su-Wei 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. It was her third three-setter in four days and came about as much through sheer grit and determination as any superior groundstrokes or serves.
“Yeah, it was (tough),” the Czech said.
“It was a tough one, for sure. She really didn’t give me anything for free.
“It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. Anyway I didn’t play great at the end of the first.”
Coming into the event the world No. 4 admitted she was undercooked and in need of some game time. While, in hindsight, the three-setters against Katerina Siniakova and Jennifer Brady in the first two rounds probably did her some good, another match that went the distance was probably not in the ideal script for the 2013 Dubai champion.
But Hsieh is a tricky opponent and she proved it once again on Centre Court. The world No. 31 hits two-handed shots off both sides and was trying to beat her fourth top-10 seed of the week. That included wins over Angelique Kerber in the third round and Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals.

Bencic will try to upset Kvitova in Saturday's final at the Aviation Club (AFP) 


She started off in much the same vein as she had finished against Kerber and Pliskova, hurrying Kvitova around the court and making life as uncomfortable as possible under the hot Dubai sun.
“She’s very tricky,” Kvitova said about Hsieh, who grabbed five games in a row to take the opening set and go up 1-0 in the second.
“I didn’t really play the best at the end of the first set. But I calmed down afterwards a little bit,” Kvitova said.
“With Hsieh, I need to be a little bit patient. ... It’s not really that easy to make those winners against her.”
While she has 
not consistently displayed her A-game this week it should come as no shock that Kvitova has made today’s final. It was the second seed’s 17th victory of 2019 — a feat bettered by no one — and it will be her third final of the season and 35th of her career. She revealed that her presence in the showdown is thanks to her mental toughness and she admitted that after a long week she will have to draw on that a lot today.
“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was more calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set,” Kvitova said.
“I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow — it was something weird.
“I’m a bit tired right now, to be honest. I have a final, so I don’t know how I going to recover. Hopefully I have a few hours to do something with me.”
Of her sparkling form so far this year she said: “It’s a bit weird, to be honest. I didn’t really expect anything like that. Well, to be honest, I didn’t expect anything, which I already achieved this year. For me, everything is just bonus.
“As I mentioned, the tennis, it’s a bit like escape this week. This is unbelievable to be in the final when I’m escaping from something. Yeah, very interesting.”
In the other semifinal Bencic once again upset the odds to overcome world No. 6 Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-3, 7-6. The Swiss went into the clash as the underdog, but from the off the world No. 45 was aggressive and deservedly won.
In doing so she ended Svitolina’s 12-match winning streak in Dubai and ended the two-time defending champion’s hopes of becoming the first woman to win three Dubai titles in a row.