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Opinion

Why Tunisia will be no pushover for the cautious Socceroos

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Roar Guru
12 hours ago
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When the teams were drawn together for Qatar 2022, Australia knew the most pivotal match in Group D would be the middle game against Tunisia.

Sandwiched between matches against the might of European heavyweights France and Denmark, Australia would be expected to take three points off the Africans.

But the Eagles of Carthage are flying under the radar and will provide a formidable test for the Socceroos.

Tunisia rode their luck in the opening game against the Danes, holding their much more fancied opponents to a 0-0 draw.

Denmark hit the post, had a goal ruled out by VAR and saw a fantastic save from a Christian Eriksen long-range pile driver

The Tunisians gave as good as they got though, also seeing a goal ruled out by VAR and requiring Kasper Schmeichel to pull out an amazing save.

Words like ‘combustible’, ‘competitive’, ‘tenacious’ and ‘ferocious’ come to mind when assessing the North Africans’ opening performance, but ‘feisty’ is the word that best describes the team’s display.

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The feistiness of the first-half performance was summed up within the first few minutes by Aissa Laidouni’s bone-crunching tackle on Danish superstar Eriksen.

Laidouni immediately thumped his chest and revved up the fans in what has already become one of the photos of the tournament.

His commitment and all-action performance in the centre of the park could prove a real test for Australia’s maligned engine room this week.

In an alternative reality Tunisia could be playing in the Asian confederation, while Australia may well be in the African one. These sides are a mirror image of each other.

Like Australia, Tunisia struggled in World Cup qualifying, playing a dull brand of football from a coach the fans disliked, while also going through a transition of player personnel.

The Socceroos reinvigorated their playing group with a lot of younger players. Tunisia went the opposite route, fielding several players over the age of 30.

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Tunisia have been regular qualifiers for the World Cup since 1998 but are yet to make it out of the group stage. The clean sheet against Denmark was their first since 1978.

The question is: how does Australia approach the next match against Tunisia?

After the pasting by the French, the Socceroos will have to be more proactive going forwards, which could play right into Tunisia’s hands.

The side plays a very awkward-to-handle 3-4-2-1 system, which reverts to five in the back line when defending.

Although the North Africans aren’t blessed with any superstars, most of this squad got their big break playing in France, which is one of the best countries in which to develop attacking players.

If that quality doesn’t shine through, then Tunisia will revert to the physical nature of the sport by getting stuck into tackles, winning 50-50 challenges and play-acting when a decision goes against them

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Youssef Msakni has been the attacking metronome for over a decade. He can be a tricky customer to get a hold of, living up to his nickname ‘the mongoose’.

Wahbi Khazri has had a good start to the season with Montpellier in France. After being rested against Denmark, he will expect minutes against Australia.

Tunisia also have some good options in midfield. Playing alongside the feisty Laidouni is another combative midfielder in Koln’s Ellyes Skhiri, while Brondby’s Anis Ben Slimane will provide the team with width when they transition forward. Manchester United prodigy Hannibal Mejbri is a wildcard option off the bench.

Apart from a recent heavy defeat in a friendly against Brazil, Tunisia is known for their shape and defensive stability, with Lorient’s Montassar Talbi and Salernitana’s Dylan Bronn marshalling the back line.

The Socceroos and their fans must not overlook the North Africans. They have the necessary quality in the required areas to be a real threat.

On paper Australia versus Tunisia has all the makings of a war of attrition, with the winner likely to be decided by who wants it more.

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