Tunisia’s last five World Cup finals appearances have all ended in first-round exits but there is a real belief they can end that disappointing run in Qatar as they prepare to face Denmark in their Group D opener at the Education City Stadium on Tuesday.
Coach Jalel Kadri concedes the weight of past failures hangs heavy over his side, but there is hope they can get off to a positive start against the Danes and build momentum in a difficult pool that also contains France and Australia.
“Our group will not be easy, the draw has not been kind,” he told reporters on Monday. Denmark is among the best squads in Europe. We know they have high quality in every department.”
“But we will give our all. We have our strengths, but we also know our weaknesses. We are aware we will be compared to past Tunisia squads.”
Former national team assistant Kadri took over as head coach after a quarter-final exit for the team at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon in February, and immediately led the side to World Cup qualification, losing just one of his eight games in charge, a 5-1 reversal at the hands of Brazil.
“In terms of performance, we feel good, we are calm and happy with the results we have achieved. We are representing all Arab nations and we deserve to be here,” he said.
Tunisia have two players in the Danish league, Anis Ben Slimane at Brondby and Issam Jebali with Odense.
The latter says he has not been able to provide any special insight into Tuesday’s opponents as the Tunisian technical team have been meticulous in their planning.
“We have a great technical staff and they have prepared well for the game,” Jebali says. “We know the Danish set-up, how they play and even how they think. We have a very good chance, we are a good squad. We are strong, we trust each other and have a good team spirit.”
Neither Kadri nor Jebali would be drawn on the issue of captains at the World Cup wearing a “OneLove” armband in support of the LGBTQ community, which FIFA said will result in a booking.
“I think everyone has spoken about of this, we are in an Arab country and we have to respect the culture,” Kadri says. “For us as athletes, this is not something that concerns us, we are here to play.”
Jebali added he was, “focusing only on football”.
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