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Belgium coach Martinez tips Tunisia as World Cup surprise package

20:47 GMT+4 11/06/2018
Roberto Martinez Belgium 10302017
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has tipped his 2018 World Cup Group G opponents Tunisia to emerge as one of the tournaments surprise packages

The Tunisians were edged 1-0 by Spain in Saturday’s final World Cup warm-up friendly in Krasnodar as they gear up to take on England, Belgium and Panama in their pool.

While Spain’s flaws were a central point of the discussion after the match, it was Tunisia’s steely display that stole more attention to overshadow the scoreline as former Liverpool forward Iago Aspas rose from the bench to dig deep and separate the teams late on in the match.

Preceding Saturday’s match was a nine-match unbeaten run by Tunisia, including the impressive 2-2 draw against European champions Portugal on May 28.

Charmed by his opponents Tunisia who arrived in Russia last Thursday, as the best-ranked team in Africa and 21st in the world, Martinez has predicted that the North Africans could spring a surprise in Russia.

"For me, they (Tunisia) deserved to win the game (against Spain)... It was just a confirmation that Tunisia could be one of the surprises in the World Cup,” Reuters quoted the former Everton boss as saying ahead of his side’s final friendly against Costa Rica on Monday.

Interestingly, Belgium’s two Group G rivals have faced Costa Rica in friendlies this year with Tunisia winning 1-0 in March while England prevailed 2-0 last Thursday.

Belgium will be Group G’s best-ranked team as they are placed third on the Fifa world rankings.

Tunisia open their World Cup campaign against England in Volgograd on Monday, before meeting Belgium in their next match on May 23 and then Panama five days later.

After witnessing first-hand Tunisia’s determined showing, Spain coach Julen Lopetegui has also turned himself into an admirer of the Carthage Eagles’ “rhythm.”

Also making Tunisia’s build-up to the World Cup more impressive could be their ability to play matches and pull off results while fasting in Ramadan.

This has been interpreted as a show of strong character. Captain Wahbi Khazri however admits that the taxing religious commitments of abstaining from food and drink between sunrise to sunset has been a major challenge in their camp.

“It is very difficult,” the Daily Mail reported Khazri as saying.

“We cannot eat or drink (when we want). It is very complicated to prepare as we want.”

Ramadan ends on Thursday, the day when the World Cup kicks off, having been observed since May 16.

Apart from fasting, Khazri has also had to worry about his own fitness that has seen him miss all of Tunisia’s warm-up games.

“I’m fine. Better every time,” he said.

“I am already training with my team-mates. I feel pretty good. I'm happy to go back to work and play. I may not be able to play the 90 minutes but what really matters is that I can help the Tunisia national team. I’m not the leader, it’s the whole team.”

Khazri is expected to be fully fit for the England tie.