No Arab nation has ever reached the quarter-finals in Fifa World Cup history, with the last-16 being the best performance managed by Morocco (1986), Saudi Arabia (1994) and Algeria (2014).
The current tournament has proven to be testing in the group stage. A 2-1 defeat to England in their Group G opening match followed by a 5-2 thumping by Belgium, ended Tunisia’s campaign with a game to spare.
But it was not the Carthage Eagles to first head home as fellow North Africans Egypt and Morocco also exited the stage early following dismal results. Saudi Arabia also went home early.
After losing their first two matches 2-1 and 3-1 to Uruguay and Russia respectively, Egypt appeared to have paved the way for their Arab compatriots.
The damage had already been done when they were overpowered 2-1 in their Group A final game by Saudi Arabia.
In Group B Morocco faced the same fate, losing 1-0 to Iran before recording a similar scoreline against Portugal, and a 2-2 draw with Spain in their last match could not save their campaign.
Maaloul has taken stock of the problems which “need two generations” to remedy.
“We have common problems,” ESPN quoted Maaloul as saying.
“I don't think we have high quality performance, we need to change our lifestyle because it is not in line with high-level football, we need to change the way we train. We need two more generations to reach (the top) level of performance in terms of fitness and physical strength. We are far from the required level.”
Tunisia will conclude their Group G campaign against Panama on Thursday, in what is just a bid to salvage some World Cup pride.
Even if they emphatically beat Panama, questions on the Arab nations’ pedigree will linger ahead of the next World Cup edition in Qatar 2022.