Tunisia will rely on familiar stadiums and their passionate fans in Qatar to achieve what has eluded them in more than 40 years as they seek to reach the World Cup second round for the first time.
Qatar hosted the Arab Cup in December last year at the World Cup stadiums to serve as a test event for the finals, with Tunisia reaching the final before losing to Algeria.
During their run to the final, Tunisia benefited from their large fan base in Qatar, which is expected to give them a home-like atmosphere when they face defending champions France, Denmark and Australia in Group D in their sixth World Cup appearance.
“There are nearly 35 000 Tunisians living in Qatar who will follow the national team matches, in addition to about 6 000 who will come from Europe, the United States and Canada,” Aymen Sassi, Tunisia’s fan leader in Qatar, told Reuters.
“Tunisians living in neighbouring countries such as UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will also attend.”
A runners-up spot at the Arab Cup did not spare Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier the axe as he lost his job in January after the Carthage Eagles were eliminated from the Africa Cup of Nations in the quarterfinals.
His assistant, Jalel Kadri, took charge and led Tunisia to a place at the World Cup following a win over Mali in the African qualifiers playoffs.
Under Kadri, Tunisia achieved a series of good results before losing 5-1 against Brazil in a friendly in September.
“We know that the task ahead is difficult, but I have confidence in our group. We are aiming high; there is no room for pessimism,” Kadri said after the World Cup draw in April.
“This is our sixth appearance in the World Cup and the team is starting to gain experience and 30-40 percent of the current squad played in the previous tournament (Russia 2018), and I am confident that we will perform excellently and achieve our goals.
“There are teams that are better than us only on paper and we must prepare well,” he added.
Tunisia begins its campaign against Denmark and faces Australia in its second game before concluding its group-stage campaign against France.
On paper, Tunisia’s realistic chance of grabbing only their third World Cup victory could come against Australia. They will also hope to spring some surprises against Denmark or France if they are to go through.
“France is the world champion and does not need to be evaluated. Denmark is an excellent team and they are considered the best in the second (seeded teams in the draw),” Kadri said.