African Cup Of Nations Team Profile: Tunisia

The Carthage Eagles will want to open a new chapter in Angola after failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 12 years.
World Cup Appearances: 4
AFCON Appearances: 13
AFCON Titles: 1

The Tunisians come into the tournament carrying the weight of their shock exit from the World Cup due to pitiful performances against Mozambique on the last day of qualifying.

The loss of their World Cup ticket and the 1-0 scoreline doesn’t indicate just how painful this was for Carthage Eagles fans who had to suffer through what was undoubtedly their team’s worst outing in the last two years or perhaps ever if you take into account the importance of the match.

Portuguese coach Humberto Coelho and the entire technical staff ended up losing their positions after the humiliation and the Tunisian Football Federation succumbed to public pressure to appoint the successful Faouzi Benzarti who has the difficult task of changing the approach of the overly conservative Carthage Eagles in a very limited amount of time.

Tunisia are in group D alongside Cameroon, Gabon, and Zambia at this upcoming edition of the African Cup of Nations.

Road To Qualification

Tunisia started off their qualifiers with two successive wins over Kenya and Mozambique and then drew at home against Nigeria in a match where they dominated possession but were unable to find much depth in attack, let alone shots on goal.

However, the results combined with others in the group were enough to secure them a place in Angola 2010 halfway through their campaign.

They then traveled to Abuja and emerged with a dramatic 2-2 draw against the Super Eagles and looked to be on their way to South Africa with only two matches left against the Harmabee Stars and the Mambas but their final match proved to be their unraveling as they came crashing down to earth in Maputo on November 14th.

The Coach

Faouzi Benzarti may not be very well known outside of Tunisia and North Africa but he is the country’s most successful coach in domestic competitions.

One thing that sets him apart from other managers of the Carthage Eagles such as Roger Lemerre and Humberto Coelho is that he favors attacking play and will certainly institute changes in the team to improve fluidity and efficiency that has been sorely lacking in that sector.

That is the main reason the overwhelming majority of Tunisians were clamoring for him to be appointed as soon as the team fell out of World Cup contention. Even though he doesn’t have very much time on his hands, he has the advantage of knowing the ins and outs of Tunisian football better than any foreign manager would and is already familiar with the players and what needs to change for things to improve.

He guided Libya in the second round of World Cup qualifying and notched some very impressive results in a group that included Gabon, Ghana, and Lesotho. His team famously beat Ghana 1-0 in Tripoli, finished tied on points with the Blackstars and Panthers, and only missed out on the final qualifying round due to an inferior goal difference than their West African rivals.

Furthermore, he’s been waiting for his chance to coach his country ever since he lead the team for little over 24 hours during the 1994 African Cup where he came on as caretaker coach in the last group game once Youssef Zouaoui was sacked.

Star Player

Ousemma Darragi (Esperance Sportive de Tunis)

The Esperance midfield maestro has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame in Tunisia thanks to a combination of grace, skill, and vision that has drawn interest from many European teams.

However, his club is refusing to sell for the moment because their goal is to win the African Champions League next year and they know that doing it without their best passer and most creative element will be a tall task.

The youngster has already provided Tunisians with some special moments in a national team jersey too, none of them bigger than his stunning finish to tie the game between his country and Nigeria. The shot came in the 89th minute and was taken from an outrageous angle with a high degree of difficulty but Darragi finished as if there was nothing to it.

Young Gun

Zouhaier Dhaouadi
(Club Africain)

“Zou” wasn’t getting the playing time he deserved under Humberto Coelho but that is likely set to change under Benzarti who will probably give a much fairer chance to players plying their trade in the domestic league. The 21 year old left winger is a full of pace and trickery. Plus, he is a real threat on crosses from open play and set pieces.

: Although a second African Cup of Nations title would go a long ways to healing the wounds of missing the first African World Cup, a more realistic goal for Tunisia is to get into the second round for starters because they have been drawn in what is arguably the second toughest group (Cameroon, Zambia, and Gabon).

Any step after that would be considered a bonus but some supporters are calling on the players to aim for nothing less than the title to make up for the disappointing manner in which they were disqualified from the upcoming World Cup.

: No matter how good a coach Benzarti is, it is hard to imagine that he will be able to address all the issues within the Carthage Eagles setup with such little preparation time. Still, one thing is for certain: His intimidating presence on the sidelines will mean that his players will fight tooth for every inch on the field to restore the dignity and pride of Tunisian football.

Nevertheless, knowing his history of overachieving, I see him shocking a lot of unsuspecting viewers by taking this team to the semi finals with a win over Nigeria or Egypt in the quarters.

Did You Know?

Tunisia was the first African team to win a game at the World Cup, coming from behind to beat Mexico 3-1 in their inaugural match at the event in Argentina in 1978. Also, besides for their 2004 African Cup of Nations title which they won on home soil, they were runners up in 1965 and 1996.

Rami Ayari,