Tunisia

تونس / Tunisie / Tunisia

  • Capital: Tunis / تونس
  • Official Languages: Arabic
  • Spoken Languages: Tunisian Arabic, Berber, French, English
  • Nicknames: نسور قرطاج / Aigles de Carthage (Eagles of Carthage)
  • Association: الجامعة التونسية لكرة القدم / ‎Fédération Tunisienne de Football (FTF)
  • FIFA Code: TUN

Records

  • Best World Cup Result (Men): Group Stage (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2018)
  • Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
  • Best AFCON/CAN Result (Men): WINNERS (2004)
  • Best AFCON/CAN Result (Women): Group Stage (2008)
  • Best CHAN Result (Men): WINNERS (2011)
  • Best Arab Cup Result (Men): WINNERS (1963)
  • Best UNAF Tournament Result (Women): WINNERS (2009)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 14th (April-May 2018)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 67th (March 2017)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 65th (July 2010)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 128th (December 2007)
  • Most Capped Player: Radhi Jaïdi – 105 caps
  • Top Scorer: Issam Jemâa – 36 goals

The Republic of Tunisia (الجمهورية التونسية / République tunisienne) is the most northerly country on the African continent, and located in north-central Africa. The country shares land borders with Algeria to its west, and Libya to its southeast, whilst it is separated from the UEFA countries of Italy and Malta to its northeast and east by the Mediterrenean Sea, which provides Tunisia’s northern and eastern boundaries. A country with a wealth of history, and being the centre of the ancient Carthaginian Empire (from which the national team gets its nickname from – the capital of Carthage being near to the modern day capital of Tunis), Tunisia gained its independence from France in 1956. The country played its first recognised match as an independent nation in 1957 in a 4-2 victory over neighbours Libya in Tunis, before joining FIFA and CAF in 1960.

The Eagles of Carthage made their first appearance in the AFCON in the 1962 competition where they finished in third place in their debut, but they improved upon that performance two years later when Tunisia (who were hosting the AFCON for the first time) reached the final of the continental tournament. On that day, Tunisia sadly let a 2-1 lead slip to eventually lose to Ghana 3-2. Tunisia has hosted the competition on three occasions – the first being 1965, and the second being in 1994, and the third in 2004. The 1994 tournament was their first appearance in the AFCON for 12 years after a hugely disappointing period in Tunisian football throughout the 1980s. Alas it would be further disappointment as the hosts failed to progress beyond the group stage, losing 2-0 to Mali, and drawing 1-1 with Zaïre (now DR Congo) to finish bottom of the group.

Things would improve for Tunisia throughout the late 1990s as a talented generation of players progressed into the national team. Firstly they reached the final of the 1996 AFCON having beaten Gabon (on penalties), and Zambia, before losing to the hosts South Africa 2-0 in a historic and perhaps destined moment for the Bafana Bafana. They would reach the semi-finals once again in the 2000 edition, but they would finally get some success in the 2004 competition. 10 years after previously hosting the tournament, Tunisia held the AFCON for the third time and thankfully the home fans would have something to cheer about. Having top the group ahead of Guinea, Rwanda, and DR Congo, the Carthage Eagles defeated Senegal, and Nigeria (on penalties), to reach the final against fellow North African team Morocco. In front of 60,000 supporters, the Tunisian team finally managed to claim their maiden continental trophy by beating the Atlas Lions 2-1 at Radès.

As mentioned previously, Tunisia’s golden era was during the late 1990s and early 2000s, and it was during this period that they also managed to qualify for three consecutive World Cups – the 1998, 2002, and 2006 competitions. Alas in all three tournaments, they were unable to progress beyond the group stage or even win a game. This is ironic considering they were the very first African team to ever win a game at the World Cup. Their first appearance in the global tournament was back in 1978 where they were placed in a very tough group alongside Poland, West Germany, and Mexico. The Tunisians managed to make history in their first group game when they beat Mexico 3-1 and ended up drawing with the defending world champions West Germany 0-0 in their final group game to show to the world (and FIFA) that African football was rapidly improving and deserved more qualification slots. Sadly despite such heroics, they missed out on the knockout stage by a single point.

After missing two World Cups in a row, the Tunisians requalified for the tournament in the 2018 edition. Although they were unable to progress beyond the group stage once again (although no African team progressed to the knockout stage in 2018 World Cup), they did finally manage to clinch their second ever World Cup victory in their history, and first since 1978. Goals from Fakhreddine Ben Youssef and Wahbi Khazri ensured that a historic 2-1 win was achieved over Panama. Further success would follow in the 2019 AFCON tournament when they progressed to the semi-finals of the tournament for the first time since 2004. Despite scraping through the group stage with 3 drawn games, they managed to beat Ghana on penalties in the Round of 16, and surprise package Madagascar 3-0 in the quarter-finals, before falling to Senegal 1-0 after extra time, and then losing in the third place playoff 1-0 to Nigeria. Nonetheless, it has been a solid fourth-place finish for the side despite winning just one game (after 90 minutes) throughout the tournament.

Tunisia have breezed their way through 2021 AFCON qualifying by winning five and drawing one in their six qualification games, conceding just five goals, and will certainly be one of the favourites for the upcoming continental tournament. With the country utilising the large Tunisian diaspora in France or playing within European football, Tunisia have collated a talented squad of young players. With such talent on show, who have been producing excellent performances recently, perhaps the next 18 months could be an historic time for Tunisian football. With the FIFA Arab Cup, 2022 AFCON, and World Cup qualifiers forthcoming, it would not be surprising if they appear at the 2022 World Cup as both the Arab and African champions…

Talking about a side who have won the African Cup of Nations on the one occassion and are currently considered one of the stronger teams within the CAF confederation, we interviewed the excellent Hamza from Tunisian Shirts Collector. As the name of his account suggests, he is a Tunisian-based football shirt collector who has a vast range of football shirts within his collection – either club or international shirts from all eras, with a plethora of Tunisian national team shirts making up a good part of his collection, naturally. To find his social media accounts, follow the links below:

Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?

Tarek Dhiab

Best player of all time is Tarek Dhiab [attacking midfielder with 101 caps and 17 goals for Tunisia between 1978 and 1989] because he’s the only Tunisian player who has won the African Ballon d’Or award [winning the award in 1977]!

Best manager is Faouzi Benzarti, because he is the most successful and titled Tunisian manager [having won a record nine league titles in Tunisian football].

Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?

Hamadi Agerbi

The cult hero of the past is Hamadi Agerbi [midfielder with 35 caps and 4 goals], who used to play in the 70’s and 80’s and he passed away last year! He was such a talented player back then, and the national team stadium is named after him in 2020 after his death (it was originally known as the Stade Olympique de Radès).

Youssef Msakni

The cult hero of nowadays is Youssef Msakni [30-year-old winger/forward], he is the unluckiest player you’d ever know. He is maybe one of the most talented African players from the past 20 years, but sadly he has had a bad career. He’s currently playing in the Qatar Stars League now [playing for Al Arabi but on loan from Al-Duhail], and has done since 2013! However, I would recommend you watch some YouTube videos about him.

Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player in the Tunisian national side currently?

Ellyes Skhiri

Our national team is getting better day after day, we just got the services of Hannibal Mejbri [18-year-old midfielder who had previously played for France’s youth side but has since confirmed for Tunisia, the country of his parents], Manchester United’s future legend; Omar Rekik [19-year-old defender], Arsenal’s player; and many other young talents, but our best player is Ellyes Skhiri, a 26-year-old 1.FC Köln player. He was one of the best players in Bundesliga last season as a CDM, and now he’s on the radar of many big teams such as Fiorentina, Real Betis, maybe Chelsea, and few others.

Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?

The national team is having some good and strong performances, ranked as 1st and 2nd (at least) best performing side in the FIFA monthly standings for the past couple years, while our team is constantly getting stronger.

Q. Are there any Tunisian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?

Yes, there are so many players:

Hannibal Mejbri
  • Hannibal Mejbri – Manchester United
  • Hamza Rafiaa – Juventus [22-year-old attacking midfielder]
  • Omar Rekik – Arsenal

And so many others…

Q. Looking at Tunisia’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?

Maybe the best game is the game versus Mexico in 1978 World Cup, the first win for an African team [winning 3-1] in the history of the World Cup. Tunisia’s performance in that World Cup made FIFA change their minds about African football and award Africa a second qualification spot in the 1982 World Cup!

Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?

The lowest performance is the 1994 African Cup of Nations. Tunisia hosted that tournament, we had a brilliant team, and we had some great friendly matches before that, drawing against Germany 1-1 and Holland 2-2 in 1994 just before the tournament. Sadly, a surprise 2-0 loss against Mali in the first game made the team lose hope and failed to progress beyond the group stage!

Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Tunisian national team?

I dont think there are bad things about being a fan of the national team except feeling the disappointment after each loss, but supporting the national team is such source of pride, especially for a small country like Tunisia! The world know nothing about it, and it is such a proud moment when the world talk about a Tunisian player or the national team.

Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?

Yes we have so many songs, here are some of them:

Tunisian fans during the World Cup in Russia – the best fans in the tournament!

Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?

Yes, I have a big collection of shirts haha. I don’t have a picture of the full collection but here’s few of my favourites [pictures provided by Hamza]:

The 1982 away shirt (far left), the 1997 shirt (middle left), the 1998 shirt (middle right), and the 1998 AFCON shirt (far right).

Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Tunisian national team?

I hope that first of all we win the forthcoming FIFA Arab Cup that Qatar will host between November and December. It will be a big step forward and a good chance to check our performance level before the World Cup qualification, which will be so hard this year!

I hope we will qualify to Qatar 2022 and make a big performance.

A massive شكرا جزيلا لك to the superb Tunisian Shirts Collector for answering our questions on the Carthage Eagles. Remember you can find their excellent social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.

If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.

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