19:45 BST, Monday 28th May, Estádio Municipal de Braga (Braga, Portugal)
With Cristiano Ronaldo in Kiev and 10 players from the winning squad of Euro 2016 dropped for this summer’s tournament, Portugal will have a slightly unfamiliar look for this match.
Their World Cup preparations endured a humbling defeat to a Holland side, who failed to qualify recently, and having been given a tough draw in Group B, beginning against Spain, Fernando Santos will be keen to get his team back to winning ways.
Nabil Maâloul is a manager who will also want to build momentum. After replacing Henryk Kasperczak little more than a year ago, Maâloul has evolved the Eagles of Carthage into a robust side who topped their qualifying group for this summer’s World Cup.
Two wins from their two friendlies following this, including a 1-0 victory over an Iran side set to play Portugal in Russia, gives hope that Tunisia could record their first World Cup win since 1978.
A win over Portugal will add further belief, which could prove a crucial factor for their opening fixture against England.
Last Time Out
Portugal 0-3 Netherlands
The Portuguese crumbled during an inept first half in Geneva to produce a crushing and deserved defeat to Ronald Koeman’s Holland side.
While Ronaldo often picks up the headlines for his country, much of their play is built on a strong defence. In this match, that defensive solidity was conspicuous by its absence. José Fonte was slow to react in the 12th minute, allowing Memphis Depay to prosper and open the scoring. Ryan Babel then found himself unmarked in the box to head in just after the half hour mark.
With Holland cutting through the Portuguese ranks with alarming ease, Santos’ side had ‘keeper Anthony Lopes to thank for maintaining an element of respect to the scoreline. He was powerless on the strike of half-time, however. Virgil Van Dijk, this time, was left unmarked and got on the end of a cross.
With João Cancelo sent off for a second yellow card after the break, any lingering hopes of a comeback were lost and Portugal’s humiliation was sealed.
Tunisia 1-0 Costa Rica
Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri lit up the game and scored the only goal which gave his side victory over fellow World Cup participants, Costa Rica. The playmaker, spending last season on loan at Rennes, was pushed into the main striker’s role and looked lively throughout.
Playing with a quick-passing style, Tunisia were the stronger team and often looked dangerous in their incisive attacks. Khazri was lucky to still be on the pitch after kicking out at Kendall Waston, who had provoked him. His 36th minute goal came soon after this, showing the cool side to his game as he beat Keylor Navas at the second attempt.
Restricting Costa Rica to just a few counterattacks, Tunisia remained in almost full control during the second half and proved good value for their win.
Ronaldo will miss out due to Real Madrid’s involvement in the Champions League final just two days prior to this game. Therefore, we could see AC Milan’s André Silva lead the attack with Bernardo Silva just behind him.
Gonçalo Guedes has had an impressive season at Valencia and could be given an opportunity to shine, with Gelson Martins also likely to start on the opposite flank.
With star striker, Taha Yassine Khenissi, and midfielder Youssef Msakni both missing the World Cup through injury, Tunisia will be without their most potent attackers this summer.
Expected to line up in a 4-3-3 formation, Aymen Mathlouthi should return in goal after Mouez Hassen had recently replaced him, although few other changes are likely to be made to the defensive side of what’s become their typical starting XI.
Key Battle: André Silva vs Naïm Sliti
Both sides will be missing their most dangerous players, although for Portugal, they will at least have theirs back in action for their trip to Russia. How well their replacements fare in this match could play a decisive factor in the outcome.
For Portugal, André Silva is a 22-year-old striker who has failed to spark into life for AC Milan this season. While he scored six goals from his ten appearances in the Europa League, he only managed to score twice from 24 league games and assisted no goals from these 34 matches.
As one of only two specialist strikers in the Portugal squad, the country’s hopes will be squarely on his young shoulders in Ronaldo’s absence.
In the Tunisian team, Youssef Msakni will be a huge miss. However, in his place they have a hugely promising talent. Naïm Sliti is a left-sided forward who played in Ligue 1 for Dijon last season.
The 25-year-old has a fine dribbling ability which helped him score seven goals and make five assists from his 30 league appearances, although three goals from 17 appearances at international level shows he’s yet to live up to his potential for his country.
A new look
Having culled several high-profile players from the Portugal squad, Fernando Santos has put together a blend of youth and experience in his team.
Many of the headlines focused on the missing Barcelona pairing of Andre Gomes and Nelson Semedo, however, centre-back Rúben Dias (21), wingers Gonçalo Guedes (21) and Gelson Martins (23) are all highly exciting additions to the squad.
With either Pepe (35) or José Fonte (34) potentially playing alongside Dias, and João Moutinho (31) and Ronaldo (33) adding plenty of experience to the spine of the team, the Portuguese side look to have struck a balance which can transition their team into the future.
Tunisia may be an unfancied side in Group G, but don’t let reputations fool you. They topped their qualifying group by taking four points from their two matches against a strong Congo DR side who finished second.
With plenty of technically gifted players in their midfield, Tunisia are capable of playing a fast-paced, attacking style.
The loss of their two key players is undoubtedly a major setback for the Eagles of Carthage, however, in both Wahbi Khazri and Saber Khalifa they have able options for a replacement striker, while Naïm Sliti could also heavily profit from his chance to impress on the world stage.
Prediction: Portugal 1-0 Tunisia
Portugal will be fired up to return to winning ways, but could find a stubborn opponent in front of them during this game.
Tunisia will set up to protect their goal without their preferred strike force, but Portugal should find a way to breach these defences and come away with a narrow win.
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