Like all African states, the Eagles of the Carthage came into the World Cup oozing with hope and pride for the African continent. Little did they know that they will be slapped with a loss from England, followed by a heavy blow of loss from Belgium. To redeem themselves, the Tunisians exited the tournament with inflicting the same kind of loss on Panama with a 2-1 win. Even though the departure was sooner than hoped for, the lessons learned were timely. Below is an overview of the learning curve.
Tunisia vs England
FirstTouch had predicted that this should be a game not to miss because of the certainty that the Eagles will bring their fight forward. They did live up to the expectation. They were flexible enough to change their strategy to a 5-3-1-1 during their second half of the game which tightened the bolts and made it hard for England to go past their defense line. The pressure on England was too much. Only Harry Kane stood in their way to victory when he scored twice for England and only allowing Tunisia to take one goal away. The 2-1 loss was not enough to discourage the North Africans as they went to devise more strategies to face Belgium in their next game.
Tunisia vs Belgium
This was the hardest and most dramatic match that the team faced throughout the tournament. Firstly, they had a new man (Farouk Ben Mustaph) at the goal post after their initial goalkeeper Mouez Hassen got injured in their first match against England. This level of flexibility is commendable. This did, of course, have negative implications for their game. Secondly, two of their players had to leave the game early due to injuries. It might have been these loopholes that allow Belgium to kick in the ball into the net 5 times. Lukaku scored two goals before the first half. Even after he left the game, the rest of the team carried the job to the very end of the 5-2 victory. This was the lowest point for the Eagles, but not all hope was lost because they still needed to face Panama.
Tunisia vs Panama
Tunisia proved that losing your former battles does not translate to absolute loss. You learn from them and come back stronger, as they gave Panama the same taste of what England gave them: 2-1 loss. In this game, Panama struck first in the 33rd minute with Jose Luis Rodriguez. This was after the Tunisian goalkeeper had not just one grip of the ball, but held it twice in the 18th minute to make sure that they did not lose this one. Tunisia was not held back by that first stab, as Fakhreddine Ben Youssef scored in the 50th minute. Just 16 minutes before the referee blew the whistle, Wahbi Khazri came in to redeem the team and ensured that the team leaves the tournament with some respect. The team is not just leaving empty handed but leaving with some lessons that will inform their next tournaments.
"For Tunisia's narrative, it's one of slight disappointment. We went into the tournament not expecting a miracle after having lost our best player Msakni. We knew our only chance was to get a result against England. We fought hard and were just 90 seconds away from making the country proud. That loss demoralized us and we went into the Belgium game physically and mentally weakened. We couldn't capitalize on our chances, and we were left fighting for our honor against Panama. We were able to salvage what could've been yet another winless World Cup (Tunisia holds the record of most winless games in a row with 11 or 12). The win against Panama was our first in 40 years!" - From Tunisian Fan Perspective, Amine
Being flexible enough to change your strategy in the middle of the game is important.
The ability to play in different roles is a definite treasure for teams.
Learning from your mistakes as a team is the whole point of the game.
The ability to persevere through a match can enable a team to turn its losses to amazing wins.
Not all good plays result in a win. Tunisia played well in the team, especially when it came to the strength of its defensive line. The only issue is that they conceded too many goals, but as their coach Nabil Maaloul says, it was only when they "met with very tough opponents". The coach went on to say that they came into the group hoping that they could at least be third in the group, and yes, their hopes were fulfilled.
They need to train more of their goalkeepers to avoid the concession to so many goals. The ability to shoot right at the net would also be necessary for them to be at their best at the Africa Cup of Nations.