When Nabil Maâloul took over from Henryk Kasperczak in April last year, after the FA’s president, Wadee Jaree, sacked the Pole, he kept to the same 4-2-3-1 formation against Egypt to win a qualifying match for the next Africa Cup of Nations. Since then Maâloul has usually played either 4‑2‑3-1 or an offensive 4-3-3, depending on the opposition.
Although he prefers a three-man defence, he has to cope with the players at his disposal and continues to rely on Ali Maâloul (no relation), Syam Ben Youssef, Yassine Meriah and Rami Bedoui. However, Maâloul made changes for the most recent game, introducing Dylan Bronn instead of Bedoui and Yohan Benalouane instead of Syam.
Interestingly Maâloul opted to play with five defenders when Tunisia faced DR Congo in a critical World Cup qualifier. He will probably choose a 5-3-2 formation against England and Belgium while he should use a 4‑2‑3-1 against Panama. In midfield Mohamed Amine Ben Amor and Ferjani Sassi are almost sure to start.
However, the late call-up of Ellyes Skhiri may change things since Skhiri and Ben Amor complement each other well. Ghayléne Chaalali could be out of the XI, even though he has started almost all the matches since Maâloul took over. He will complete his midfield with Naïm Sliti on the left and either Saïf‑Eddine Khaoui or Anice Badri on the right, as the loss of Youssef Msakni to a cruciate ligament injury has left a void.
Finally Wahbi Khazri will lead the attack. The loss of Taha Yassine Khenissi to a thigh injury and Khazri’s good performances as a striker with Rennes mean Tunisia will use the attacking midfielder in a new role at the World Cup.
Which player is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup?
Skhiri has had an excellent season with Montpellier but is unknown outside France. At only 22 he has become the captain of his club and all his talent should be on display as he seeks to deny the England and Belgium attacks. He is a player to watch and is unlikely to linger much longer at Montpellier.
Which player is likely to disappoint?
Yohan Benalouane, the France-born Leicester City defender, declined several call-ups from Tunisia in the past – for family reasons, he later explained – so was not universally welcomed when he finally made himself available for selection after the country reached the World Cup. He could prove a useful addition to Tunisia’s central defence, especially given his knowledge of England’s players, but he has a rash streak and is hardly going to be at his sharpest after making just one Premier League appearance last season.
What is the realistic aim for Tunisia at the World Cup and why?
The last three times the Eagles of Carthage made the finals – 1998, 2002 and 2006 – they finished with two defeats and a draw, a big disappointment for the fans. They all have in mind the 1978 World Cup, where Tunisia played good football and almost qualified from a group containing the holders, West Germany, and Poland, who had come third in 1974. Tunisia’s realistic aim is to reach the second stage. They should lose to Belgium but may surprise England in the opener and therefore have their destiny in their hands against Panama.