Tunisia need to discover goal touch to progress in World Cup

Tunisia, who are known for their defensive discipline, are under pressure to beat a strong Belgium side as well as Panama in order to progress into the knock-out phase.
Tuesday 19/06/2018
Tunisia's Ferjani Sassi (L) celebrates his penalty goal with Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul during a match between Tunisia and England at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Volgograd, Russia, on June 18, 2018. (AP)
Tunisia's Ferjani Sassi (L) celebrates his penalty goal with Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul during a match between Tunisia and England at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Volgograd, Russia, on June 18, 2018. (AP)

LONDON – Tunisia need a new game-plan if they are to avoid their usual fate of falling at the first hurdle of a World Cup.

The North Africans, who are known for their defensive discipline, had only one shot on target — an equalising penalty — as they fell to a last-gasp 2-1 defeat by England on June 18.

Tunisia are now under pressure to beat a strong Belgium side as well as Panama in order to progress into the World Cup knock-out phase for the first time.

That looks a tough prospect for a side who lost their most gifted play-maker, Youssef Msakni, to injury before the tournament.

“We still have six points to play for and we have to bring them home, God willing,” Msakni, appearing as a matchday analyst for beIN Sports television, said after the final whistle. “I hope the mistakes we made today will help us prepare for the next games.”

England’s two goals, both scored by Harry Kane, came from corners as the prolific striker slipped his markers.

But until his 91st-minute winner, it looked as if Tunisia were about to pull off an unlikely draw that could have served as a launch-pad for the rest of the group stage.

After a rocky start, and a couple of strong penalty claims by Kane, Tunisia’s defensive wall seemed increasingly comfortable as England failed to carve a way though.

Now Tunisia manager Nabil Maaloul will need to find a way to pose more attacking threat against Belgium’s experienced defence.

That task will fall heavily on the shoulders of captain Wahbi Khazri. But he looked short of match fitness as he made his first appearance since suffering an injury in April.

Tunisia will also need more from midfield playmaker Naim Sliti who barely featured against England and was substituted with more than 15 minutes to go.

Goalkeeper Mouez Hassen, who denied England’s Jesse Lingard with a fine save early in the game before being substituted with an injury, is unlikely to play again at the World Cup, local media reported.

Maaloul paid tribute to England’s Kane. “It was Kane who won this match for England,” Maaloul told reporters.

“It was him who was always there at the right time. He is the optimal striker,” he said.

“The spaces that were created by Kane were very scary to us,” said Maaloul.

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)