All you need to know about the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia ahead of AFCON 2021.
There are few more reliable sides in African football than Tunisia; they have mastered the art of being good without being good enough.
A perennial campaigner at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), one can always count on the Carthage Eagles to start unconvincingly, bore their way to the latter stages nevertheless and then exit in somewhat controversial fashion just as their performance level is starting to improve. Like clockwork.
They will hope to buck that unfortunate trend this time, and the early signs offer some hope. Tunisia averaged more than two goals a game in qualifying (only Algeria scored more), topping their group ahead of Equatorial Guinea, Libya and Tanzania by winning more matches than any other side that made it through to Cameroon. The Carthage Eagles also won seven of their 10 fixtures in 2021, so they are coming into AFCON in decent form.
Based on the latest rankings released by FIFA in December, Tunisia is 4th in Africa and 30th overall in the world.
Tunisia won their first and only AFCON trophy on home soil in 2004
Tunisia’s only AFCON title came in 2004 on home soil, when they defeated Morocco 2-1 in an exciting final. Beyond that, they have three other podium finishes to their credit: they were runners-up in 1965 and 1996, and placed third in 1962.
The coach and tactical approach
51-year-old Mondher Kebaier took over from Frenchman Alain Giresse in 2019, as the Tunisian FA opted to install a local coach. His results have been largely positive, but even then opinion among the Tunisian footballing community is quite mixed; certainly, Tunisia’s performance in Cameroon will be a major factor in his continued employment.
His system is a high-pressing 4-3-3 that focuses on getting the ball forward quickly after turning it over and working to generate high-quality shots.
Khazri is a consistent performer for Tunisia, and is their star player (IMAGO / ZUMA Wire)
Wahbi Khazri is a forward with a great deal of imagination and technical quality, and fills roles all across the front line, whether out wide or as a false nine when playing centrally. The Saint Etienne man is admirably consistent in his output, and was one of the few who came to the party last time out in 2019, almost willing Tunisia through their initial torpor. He also takes a mean free kick.
In midfield or on the wing, Naim Sliti provides the creativity and final balls most of the time with his brilliant left foot, while Koln’s Ellyes Skhiri has the lungs and legs to provide coverage deeper, as well as the technical quality to conduct the play and distribute.
Having already amassed 9 international caps at just 18, Hannibal Mejbri could very well be the future of the Tunisian national team. The Manchester United midfielder’s physicality, stamina, resilience, and composure while in possession of the ball are his greatest assets, allowing him to boss the midfield against much older players.
Tunisia national football team (IMAGO / Eyepix Group)
Farouk Ben Mustapha; Mohamed Drager, Dylan Bronn, Montassar Talbi, Ali Maaloul; Ellyes Skhiri, Aissa Laidouni, Ferjani Sassi; Naim Sliti, Seifeddine Jaziri, Wahbi Khazri.
It might actually be in Tunisia’s interest to finish in second place in this group and avoid the prospect of a meeting with Cote d’Ivoire in the Round of 16. However, even if that cup passes over them, that path would take them to the hosts in the Quarter-finals, which is precisely the stage at which the Carthage Eagles often flake out.