World Cup 2018: England vs Tunisia – 4 Tunisian players to watch out for

With most players plying their trade in Tunisia and the gulf, Tunisia are an unknown quantity. RealSport profiles four Tunisian players who could be the difference.

REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

With the World Cup favourites falling like flies over the first five days of the tournament, there is a growing sense of optimism amongst England fans going into their opening fixture against Tunisia.

Of course, Germany losing, Argentina drawing and France scraping past Australia should hardly mean that England are guaranteed to play well.

One thing standing in their way is the Tunisian football team. Given that few of their players play outside the country, doesn’t mean that they won’t offer England some opposition.

Here are four players who could cause some problems on Monday evening:

  1. 1 Ali Maaloul

    REUTERS/Albert Gea

    The rampaging left back is arguably the best African left back since the turn of the decade. Whatever the game, whatever the magnitude, the 28-year-old’s performances sustain the same high level. 

    With star man Youssef Msakni out due to injury, he can make a compelling case for being Tunisia's most important player through the output brought by his forays down the left flank, often ending in assists.

    A key component in CS Sfaxien’s 2014 African Confederation Cup (Africa’s equivalent to the Europa League) triumph, alongside international teammates Fakhreddine Ben Youssef and Ferjani Sassi, and Sunderland's Ibrahima Ndong, Maaloul hasn't had his lucky break in Europe yet unlike his contemporaries. 

    Fortunately, he is playing for Al Ahly, Africa's biggest and most cutthroat club. However, this tournament represents a chance to show his talents on a grander stage.

    His enormous energy down the left has been a key and understated feature of Al Ahly's attacking play as the reached the final of the African Champions League last year. That readiness to get forward over the course of 90 minutes has been replicated in national team colours in what used to be a problem area before his revelation. 

    Possessing a vicious shot, Maaloul is also a set-piece specialist and will take free-kicks favouring his left foot. 

  2. 2 Mohamed Amine Ben Amor

    Tunisia have a reputation for shirking the physical side of the game but a definite exception to that generalisation is Mohamed Amine Ben Amor.

    The midfielder has brought much needed bite since becoming a mainstay in the team in 2016, complementing the aesthetics and calmness on the ball that midfield partner Ferjani Sassi brings with him.

    Born and bred in the city of Sousse, Ben Amor has made his name with his hometown club and remained with them, bar a brief loan spell to cash in in Saudi Arabia earlier this year.

    His performances for his boyhood club inspired them to the CAF Confederation title in 2015. That gong led opened up a pathway to the national team and he has not looked back since.

    His combative streak and lung capacity to run from box to box make Ben Amor a functional but invaluable player for his national team as they transition from defence to attack. 

    He has no major weaknesses to his game and his standard of performances during qualification are one of the main reasons why Tunisia are in Russia.

  3. 3 Naim Sliti

    REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

    At the Africa Cup of Nations last year, Naim Sliti showed signs of a player that was ready that had the potential to be a key player in this Tunisia team, adding gusto that was only regularly got from Youssef Msakni. 

    Fast forward 18 months later, and with the injury to the talismanic Msakni, Naim Sliti’s influence in this team becomes vital if they are to confound pundits’ pre-tournament predictions.

    Msakni’s injury leaves the French-born Sliti as the closest thing to a like-for-like replacement. Stocky, pacey and inventive on the turn, the attacking midfielder has had a good season with Dijon in the French Ligue 1 on loan from Lille. 

    Anice Badri and Fakhredinne Ben Youssef, who are expected to start in attack versus England, are more finishers than creators and so Sliti’s willingness to cover ground and carry the ball centrally adds a different bow to Tunisia’s attack. 

    A continuation of his club form will be needed if Tunisia's World Cup campaign is going to be a success.

  4. 4 Ferjani Sassi

    REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

    Tall, quick-footed, and blessed with the patrician grace that makes football look easy, it is understandable why the tag of “the Arab Pirlo" has been bequeathed upon Ferjani Sassi.

    While donning the black-and-white colours of CS Sfaxien, he was instrumental the Arab Juventus’ successful CAF Confederation Cup and league double in 2014. 

    Aged just 22, Sassi more than consolidated his nickname in a stylish performance in the final that blew away Congolese superclub TP Mazembe, capping off an excellent season.

    The youngster has gradually grown into the national team jersey since then, though he had to wait on the periphery before becoming a guaranteed starter. A move to Metz in Europe didn’t work out but he started to play his game with a more wily outlook upon his return to Tunisia with Esperance. 

    Sassi has made the deep-lying midfielder position his own since Henryk Kasperczak’s reign. His flourishes on the ball through the centre of the pitch, usually beating a handful of men of men in the process, making him a highlight in a Tunisian side that isn’t known for its watchability.

    How do you think the game will go on Monday evening? Let us know by commenting below.

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