Tunisia prepared to spring World Cup upset against England

(L to R) Tunisia's defender Yohan Benalouane, defender Hamdi Nagguez, defender Syam Ben Youssef, and defender Oussama Haddadi take part in a training session at the Olympic stadium El Menzah in the Tunisian capital on June 4, 2018, as part of the team's preparation for the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2018

Tunisia prepared to spring World Cup upset against England

  • Tunisia face England in Group G on Monday evening
  • Tunisia will forever have a starring role in the history of Arab football, having recorded the region’s first win in a World Cup in 1978 when they beat Mexico 3-1

MOSCOW: It has been a long 12 years for Tunisian football fans.
And as their beloved Eagles of Carthage prepare to take on England in Monday’s Group G encounter, the weight of Arab expectation and the hopes of an entire region rest on the shoulders of Nail Maaloul’s charges.
After Saudi Arabia’s crushing defeat to hosts Russia in Thursday’s opening game and Morocco and Egypt both losing at the death to late goals in heartbreaking fashion, Arab fans are yet to experience the joy of a World Cup win in this year’s tournament.
Now it is up to Tunisia to get the region’s teams back on track.
Tunisia will forever have a starring role in the history of Arab football, having recorded the region’s first win in a World Cup in 1978 when they beat Mexico 3-1.
The problem for the Tunisians is that the national team has not done much since causing a stir 40 years ago in Argentina.
In the three World Cups they have reached since then, Tunisia still have not notched a second victory. And, after meeting England in Volgograd, Tunisia then take on Panama, playing in the World Cup for the first time, followed by heavily-fancied Belgium.
For football-obsessed Arab fans, there is a sense that the region’s teams have stagnated on the game’s biggest stage, a sense that has only grown after the Egypt and Morocco games.
But within their camp, the Tunisian players have a strong sense of belief. And they are raring to match the achievement of that famous team 40 long years ago and register another win — particularly against England.
“It’s a World Cup game, and in one game, anything is possible and anything can happen,” Tunisia’s central defender Yohan Benalouane said. “We are not here to take part, we are here to take over.
“We play good football,” Benalouane added, who plays with his “close friends” Jamie Vardy and Harry Maguire at Leicester City and who will be lining up against him and his teammates this evening.
“Yes, it will be difficult for us, but it will be difficult for the other teams, too.”
Benalouane believes the key to stopping England will be to prevent Harry Kane from playing his natural game.
“Honestly, he is one of the very best strikers in the world. Harry can do everything and he has the technique to score from everywhere. We have to be focused on him. He’s that complete player that has everything in strong amounts.”




Meanwhile, Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul has singled out England's Dele Alli as his side's most dangerous opponent.
The confident coach, in his second spell as national team boss, said his side could beat England and open the door to progressing from the group stages and to the quarterfinals.
"Why not?" he told reporters ahead of his side's final training session in Volgograd on Sunday.
"Our team is ready," he added, referring to recent warm-up results where they drew with Portugal and lost narrowly to Spain.
"We played well in friendlies. We did well and we expect to do the same here."
But he stressed that to do well against England, Tunisia had to keep Alli quiet, and confessed he was an admirer of the 22-year-old Tottenham midfielder.
"He is a great player," said Maaloul. "He is a midfielder who can play anywhere: centre, forward or deep midfield, up front on his own or wide on the left.
"We know how easily Alli and Kane can find each other and their understanding so must divide them.
"The most dangerous thing for me is the way he sees the match and plays the last pass."
The Tunisian coach placed England among the favourites to win the World Cup despite their abject record in recent major tournaments.
The Three Lions failed to get out of their group in Brazil in 2014 and were humiliated by Iceland in Euro 2016 in France.
"I was in the stadium when they played Iceland," he said. "Now they are a more stronger side. The result is not going to be the same tomorrow.
"We have pressure and they have pressure to do well. We are representing Africa and the Arabic world. They are one of the favourites to win the World Cup."


Tunisia pose a much stronger threat in tonight’s game than when they were drawn in the same group as England and Belgium back in December. The world’s media instantly put Belgium and England through to the next round, dismissing the potential of upsets from Tunisia or Panama.
As the months have passed, however, the threat level from Tunisia has risen. Since qualifying, the Tunisian football federation’s recruitment drive has transformed the side, supplying new faces and fresh talent, while their build-up matches — credible draws against Portugal and Turkey and a narrow defeat to Spain — have shown exactly how they intend to play in Russia.
It is something Gareth Southgate has taken seriously in preparing his team for the challenge his young squad faces in Russia — he told his squad the starting line-up for the Tunisia game in advance.
“The players know the team for the first game already,” he said. “We have been working on a system of play we think suits the players we have available and the style of play we want to implement as well.
“From our fans’ point of view, they’re enjoying seeing young players come into the squad. Everyone at home wants England to win but they want to see them play well and enjoy their football and that’s what I want as a coach. So if we can marry those things and the environment is right, then we think results become part of that process.”

THE OPEN, DAY TWO: Who is contending at Carnoustie?

Updated 28 min 14 sec ago

THE OPEN, DAY TWO: Who is contending at Carnoustie?

SECOND ROUND: Several stars started the second round with work to do, the cut mark looks like it will be at the 3-over or 2-over mark. Tiger Woods, Phil MIckelson and Jordan Spieth are all over par so need a decent round to stay for the weekend. It is wet in Scotland, for the first time in a while, here is how the big names are faring...

ZACH JOHNSON, 6-under 

The 2015 champion again showed he is to be feared on links courses as he fired a fine 4-under 67 to tak the clubhouse lead. One of the best putters around he will surely be in the mix come Sunday. "Everything is coming together to a point where I should be in contention more often," the American said. 


The Englishman came into the tournament as one of the favorites and on the evidence of this round it is not hard to see why. The course record holder (set last year) fired a brilliant 6-under 65, can he get his hands on a first Major this weekend? "We are only two days in, come Sunday I would like to be in the same spot. You put all the practice in for this and you have to go out and play golf, but it is easier said than done," he said. 

RORY MCILROY, 4-under 

Another solid round for the 2014 champion, he played within himself, but would have wlaked off the course thinking of what might have been. He gave himself plenty of birdie opportunities but is not far off the lead and will doubtless fancy his chances, especially if he can make a few more putts. "Right now I am feeling good about it," he said. 

TIGER WOODS, level-par

The Big Beast just missed a birdie putt on 18 that would have left him in red figures. He will, however, be pleased with his day's work and do not be surprised to see him challenge the top of the leaderboard over the weekend. After the round he said: "I think it is going to be a crowded leaderboard. There are going to be a bunch of guys with a chance to win...it's going ot be a bunched leaderboard." 


The American came arrived at Carnoustie as the favorite but left as the first world No. 1 not to make the cut since Luke Donald in 2011. A one-over 72 was not enough to repair the damage done by his opening 76 on Thursday. 


FIRST ROUND: That's it then, everyone has had a go at this famous old course and it is American Kevin Kisner who leads on -5 after the first day. Northern Ireland's hope Rory McIlroy sits three shots back on -2, and after a topsy-turvy round, Tiger Woods is level.

It was not such a good day for 2017 winner Jordan Spieth, who dropped four shots on the final four holes to finish +1 for the day. Here's a look at the biggest names and how they fared on day one...


He came in as a lot of people's favorite to win the Open Championship, but the American world No. 1 has had an afternoon to forget. Never finding his rhythm, he shot a five-over-par 76 and now faces a massive uphill struggle just to make the weekend. Hope for the rest of the field...


The 14-time Major winner finished off his first round with a par, and he's level par for the day too. A very neat and tidy round of 71 for the American, and he looked a more composed and in-control figure than he has done of late. His successful holes were met with raucuous cheers, might be a crowd favorite for the Claret Jug?


The American was the early leader firing a 66 in the early benign conditions. The world No.33 was not thought of as a possible winner, his best finish at an Open was tied for 54th last year. Can he stay near the top of the leaderboard until Sunday?



Looking for his first Major in four years the world No.8 started with a solid round of 69. Two-under for the tricky back nine will give him confidence heading into the second round as he goes in search of his second Claret Jug. 


The Englishman has endured a torrid time since he memorably won the Green Jacket two years ago. But a recent upturn in form continued at Carnoustie and it would not be a shock to see him up near the top of the leaderboard into the weekend.

JON RAHM, 2-under

The tempestuous Spaniard has all you need to win a Major, but is yet to get his hands on one of the top-four prizes. He made a good start in Scotland, carding a 69 in a round that featured only two birdies. He will fancy his chances of contending come Sunday evening.


Three birdies and two bogeys saw the American open up with a solid, if unspectacular round. The world No. 7 has long down well on links courses so expect him to make a challenge on Friday and Saturday in a bid to win he first Major.


It all started so well for the defending champion. He was 3-under through 11 and looking set for the clubhouse lead. But then disaster struck on the 15th where a double bogey was followed up with bogeys on 16 and 17 to leave him to card a 72.


A birdie at the last would have at least left him leaving the court with a smile, but deep down he would know that being one of the earlier starters he should have done better than an up-and-down round of 72. He is desperate to add to his one Major and he has work to do if he is to get Major No. 2 this week.


The Masters champion talked a good game coming into the tournament (when does he not?). But he was left scratching his head after a 75 left him well off the pace at Carnoustie. He never really got going after a double bogey at the second left him playing catch up, a bogey on the last summed up his day.