Tunisia lose their World Cup coach to Qatar champions Al-Duhail

Nabil Maaloul took charge of 13 Tunisia games. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2018

Tunisia lose their World Cup coach to Qatar champions Al-Duhail

  • Nabil Maaloul leaves after 'tempting offer'
  • Former Tunisian international thought Maaloul 'failed in his tactical choices' at World Cup

LONDON: Tunisia have lost national team coach Nabil Maaloul to Qatar champions Al-Duhail — and football experts in the Arab nation are divided as to whether the team have progressed under his watch.
Maaloul failed to take the Carthage Eagles to the knockout stage for the first time in their fifth appearance at the World Cup, but he did take the nation to 14th in the world and that was clearly enough to spark interest from Al-Duhail. He was appointed as their new boss on Friday.
“I received a tempting offer two days ago,” Maaloul told Tunisian radio on Thursday.
The Tunisian federation confirmed the Al-Duhail offer and released the former international from his contract, despite collecting a first World Cup win since 1978 courtesy of a 2-1 victory over Panama. That game, however, was a dead rubber following a last-minute loss to England and then a 5-2 defeat against Belgium.
Maaloul defended his record since taking the job last year. “I am proud of what the Tunisian team achieved this year, reaching 14 in the world rankings,” he said. “I am also proud of what we did at the World Cup despite the difficulty of a group that contained England and Belgium who both reached the semifinals.”
Despite the tough opposition, there have been critics. Legendary former Tunisian international Zoubeir Baya questioned the coach, who has also been derided for his pre-tournament target of a place in the last eight.
“Maaloul failed in his tactical choices in the first two games,” said the ex-midfielder who appeared at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. “He also got it wrong in the selection of players for the tournament.”
Baya questioned the inclusion of Yohan Benalouane, a defender who played just one Premier League game for Leicester City, while leaving out Marseilles star Aymen Abdennour.
Another Tunisian veteran, Yamen Ben Zekry, believes that Maaloul deserves more time.
“It is worth continuing with him and he should be judged after the 2019 African Nations Cup,” said the Kuwaiti-based defender as qualification for the tournament continues in September. There is an acceptance that the team were too open against Belgium. “His style is usually offensive and there is a need to sort out the defensive issues but that would come with more games and time.”
Maaloul also believes that it will also take time for Tunisia to compete with the established powers of the game. “We have a long distance from the high level and we have to work a lot and change our lifestyle, the quality of the exercises and the study. In my opinion, we must wait for two more generations to reach the high level of football, which is characterized by speed, physical strength and discipline.”
His arrival in Doha means that current Al-Duhail boss Djamel Belmadi will be on his way. According to reports in the region, the former Algeria midfielder is set to become coach of the Algeria national team, a post that became vacant last month with the dismissal of Rabah Madjer.
Earlier this week, Vahid Halilhodzic denied that he had accepted an offer to return to Algeria, the team that he led to the second round of the World Cup in 2014.
“I had calls to replace Rabah Madjer but I assure you that there is nothing official and that I have no agreement with anyone,” Halilhodzic said. “Things are complicated in Algerian football at the moment.”

Top seeds Djokovic, Barty toppled in Cincinnati semifinals

Updated 37 sec ago

Top seeds Djokovic, Barty toppled in Cincinnati semifinals

  • Medvedev’s upset win sent him into a title showdown with another unexpected finalist

CINCINNATI: World No. 1 Novak Djokovic wilted under pressure from Daniil Medvedev Saturday, falling 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 to the ninth-seeded Russian in the Cincinnati Masters semifinals.

Medvedev’s upset win sent him into a title showdown with another unexpected finalist, 16th-seeded Belgian David Goffin, who defeated France’s Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-4 to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 final.

A fuming Djokovic, who looked to have control of the contest in the early going, was caught out when Medvedev stepped things up in the second set.

“I don’t know how I turned it around, I was so tired after the first set and I thought I might not be able to keep up the intensity,” said Medvedev, who has competed in 15 hardcourt matches since July 30.

“But I had a momentum chance in the second set and the crowd gave me energy,” added the Russian, who will be playing his second Masters series final in eight days, after falling to Rafael Nadal in Montreal last Sunday.

“Novak had been destroying me on second serve, so I just went for it,” Medvedev said. “It’s a great feeling to win and beat the No. 1.”

Djokovic, the defending champion who was playing his first tournament since his Wimbledon triumph in July, need some time to cool down before pondering his loss.

“He deserves to be in the mix, certainly, with all his results,” Djokovic said. “He’s working his way to top 5. “He’s definitely one of the best players in the world at this moment.”

There was an upset in the women’s draw as well, as Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated top-seeded Australian Ashleigh Barty 6-2, 6-4.

Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam champion who has been hindered lately by injury, will be in search of her 19th WTA title — and her first in more than a year — when she takes on American Madison Keys in the final. Keys, the 2017 US Open runner-up, defeated compatriot Sofia Kenin 7-5, 6-4.

Kuznetsova denied Barty a chance to reclaim the world No. 1 ranking, which the Australian would have done by reaching the final.

Djokovic said there was little he could do in the face of Medvedev’s go-for-broke style.

“When I had my racquet on the ball I was returning also his serves, but you can’t really predict someone or prepare yourself for someone serving that big second serve consistently from 4-3 to the end of the match with making maybe two double faults out of God knows how many serves,” he said.

With the US Open starting on August 26, Djokovic said he took “mostly positives” from the week.

“Today I did lose a tennis match, but I didn’t do too much wrong,” he said. “So I’ll take that and I’ll move forward to New York and have a good practice week.

“I’m going to go to fight for a title as everyone else does — and I like my chances.”

Medvedev won 12 of the last 14 points in the second set to square the match against Djokovic, then ran up a 3-1 lead in the third on the way to victory on his first match point.

Instead the triumph by 34-year-old Kuznetsova leaves injured Naomi Osaka atop the rankings with the US Open looming.

Barty, who had rallied from a set down in each of her previous two matches, also said she was taking positives from the week to Flushing Meadows.

“This was a week that I battled through,” Barty said. “At times I played some good stuff. At times I played some pretty awful stuff.

“I’ve learned a lot from this week, and there are nothing but positives going into New York,” she said.

Keys booked her finals spot as she won an all-American match littered with 12 breaks of serve.

She earned match points with a flick volley winner angled steeply cross-court and amazed herself with the get. “I looked at my box in shock,” she admitted. “I’m really feeling great about my tennis.