Tunisia take heart out of England defeat with Belgium match looming

Syam Ben Youssef challenges Raheem Sterling for the ball during Tunisia's Group G clash with England at the 2018 World Cup. (AFP)
Updated 19 June 2018
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Tunisia take heart out of England defeat with Belgium match looming

VOLGOGRAD: At the end, there was just emptiness. The Tunisian players sat hunched, contemplating a dramatic 2-1 defeat against England in their World Cup opener in Volgograd.
They had been the masters of their own downfall, defending set pieces laxly, allowing England’s star striker Harry Kane to score twice.
For Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul the result came as a big disappointment, losing both goals to set pieces was not in the script for a side that came into the tournament well organized and confident.
But Maaloul is staying calm and backing his players to learn from the setback and take that into Saturday’s all-important clash against Belgium.
“We learn every day, every day — that we are still far from the elite level,” Maaloul said. “We have to work, in particular physically. We practically did not win a duel against the English, who are known for this. The match was won on the set pieces.
“Height is very important in the game, in spite of the Spanish having revolutionized the game, but they have a lot of technical authority. They succeed in mastering every game and keeping up the pressure, but when you don’t have that same skill then you can’t compete.”
Belgium are ranked third in the world behind only defending world champions Germany and Brazil. On the evidence of Monday, it is likely the North Africans will struggle to impose their game against Roberto Martinez’s team and in the absence of the injured Youssef Msakni, Wahbi Khazri has been tasked with scoring the goals, but against England he endured an indifferent time.
The battle against Belgium is one the Eagles of Carthage cannot lose. Maleoul is all too aware of that and and is under no illusions as to the size of the task his side face.
“We have to score goals,” Maaloul said. “We no longer have a choice, we have to attack and we have to hit the net. Belgium are one of the favorites, the favorites in this group.
“We will try to take them on, with players like Mertens, Hazard and Lukaku up front, who are able to make the difference at any given moment.
“They also have Kevin De Bruyne a bit deeper and he is practically the best midfielder in the world at the moment, then you have two exceptional wing backs in Meunier and Carrasco — so they are an exceptional.
“We will try to play the game, we no longer have a choice. We will try to attack and to score, and to compete with this Belgian team.”
For the players the defeat to England was a case of what might have been. Having got back into the clash after England’s brilliant, energetic start to lose in the 90th minute to a set-piece strike was a bad blow to take.
“It was a cruel scenario,” said captain Wahbi Khazhri, who was substituted in the 85th minute for Saber Khalifa. “We sat back too deep in the second half and didn’t cause any problems for England in attack. We defended too much. We conceded from set pieces and they were dangerous in those situations.”
Previously, Morocco, Egypt and Nigeria had conceded all their goals in the World Cup from set pieces and Tunisia showed the same vulnerability as Africa’s losing streak continued in Russia. Twice, Kane was left totally unmarked in the Tunisian box and the Tottenham striker duly obliged, opening his World Cup account with a match-winning brace.
“These set pieces are things that you can correct, easily correct,” midfielder Ellyes Skhiri said. “When you concede a goal like that at the very last minute, it’s a blow, because we would have been satisfied with a draw,” said Naim Sliti, who disappointed on the night and was taken off on 73 minutes.
“We have to regroup and even try to win the next game. A World Cup is played over three games.”
On Saturday, Tunisia will have their backs against the wall against heavily fancied Belgium. At the last World Cup in Brazil, the Belgians entered the tournament as dark horses, but disappointed with a lacklustre 1-0 quarterfinal exit against Argentina and an underwhelming style of play. They opened their Russia World Cup with a comfortable 3-0 win against Panama in Sochi, with two goals from Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku.
“We have to maintain our own style against Belgium,” said Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. “It wasn’t easy against England. They played their game and we had to play the long ball, which is not our strength. In the next game we have to play our own game.”


Pakistan’s Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

Pakistan's Azhar Ali celebrates reaching his century during a match between England and Pakistant on August 4, 2016. (Reuters file)
Updated 17 July 2018
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Pakistan’s Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

  • Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month

LONDON: Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali has joined Somerset for the remainder of their first-class English County Championship fixtures this season, the southwest club said Monday.

The 33-year-old replaces Australia opener Matt Renshaw, who made three hundreds at 51.30 in the opening rounds of the Championship before breaking a finger against Surrey at Guildford last month.

Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month.

"The standard of first-class cricket in England is very high and I hope that I can make a contribution to Somerset winning matches," Azhar told his new county's website.

"I have heard good things about Somerset and I was impressed by what I saw at Taunton in 2016 (when Pakistan opened their tour of England that year against the county).

"I am looking forward to joining my new team mates and meeting the Somerset supporters soon."

Azhar struggled during Pakistan's three Tests against Ireland and England earlier this season, making 73 runs in six innings although his lone fifty did come during Pakistan's impressive victory over England at Lord's.

"Finding the right fit at short notice can be challenging, however we are delighted to have secured a player of Azhar Ali's character, pedigree and class for the remaining seven Specsavers County Championship matches," said Somerset's director of cricket, Andy Hurry.

"His experience at the top of the order will prove to be hugely valuable at the business end of the season.

"I have spoken to him several times over the last few weeks and he is very keen to share his knowledge of the game with our aspirational players, so the influence he can have within the changing room will also be vital for us as a club."