One hundred stories heading to Qatar 2022: Tunisia, an Arab mosaic for the first World Cup in the Middle East

Tunisia it is a crossroads. A place made of many places, of different civilizations and multiple experiences. A colorful mosaic that was built with each piece of its history without hiding any. What emerged from its vast desert and what landed on its Mediterranean shores. Tunisian culture is the sum of its parts. Its proud Arab belonging emerges from that multitude of fragments, including its colonial past. That’s why It is such a special place, traditional and, at the same time, modern. His soccer team, which had to be in Qatar 2022, could not be different.

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Jamil Kadri’s team responds to the description of their homeland. Most of the squad that will be in the first World Cup to be played in the Middle East plays football in Tunisia or in other Arab countries. just a few few come from prestigious European football, especially from Francethe last colonial mother of the Tunisians.

It is not that there are no footballers from Tunisia in the Old Continent, there are in quantity but the decision of the current coaching staff is to bet on experience and national sentiment. And those qualities are those veteran players who are still in the Arab world. They are the ones who best understand what it means for Tunisians to play a World Cup in the Middle East.

There is no other place like Tunisia in the Arab world. While the Muslim universe is usually a closed environment, the particular Tunisian history gave birth to a diverse culture. Its strategic geographical location on the African coast of the Mediterranean meant that a good part of the history of humanity passed through there. The result is a mixture rich in traditions, always attentive to novelty.

This is noticeable in every aspect of Tunisian culture. For example, him The official language is Arabic, but the population is also fluent in French., the language of its last colonizer, until the middle of the 20th century, and current trading partner. Although, in reality, the most popular language is Tunisian Arabic. It is a dialect that has Berber and Punic roots, and influences from all the cultures that at some point settled there: Turkish, Italian, Spanish, French and more. It is a type of Arabic that no one in the Arab world understands.

Tunisia is that special. And that is due to its history as a colony of almost all known civilizations. In addition to the Carthaginians, its native population, Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Jews, Christians, Arabs, Islamic, Turks and various modern European cultures passed through there. Tunisian cultural heritage was built over centuries with bits and pieces of these imported stories. That clash of identities was resolved by assuming diversity, without denying their conflicts and, also, without hiding their differences.

Perhaps it is only logical that the most recognized art of Tunisia are the mosaicsa tradition dating back to pre-Roman times. Their entire culture is a ceramic built with pieces from various civilizations. With colorful and repetitive patterns, they adorn walls and floors to represent stories or characters. Similarly, the Tunisians gave themselves an identity.

Its national flower is the jasmine, which arrived from Andalusia in the 16th century. From the desert, the lands of the Maghreb, adopted the hamsa, the symbol of the palm of the hand that is an amulet against the evil eye. His music was first influenced from the East by Mecca and Medina, then by Muslim Spain and finally by the Ottoman Empire. Its architecture expresses all these colonial eras. Also the food, a mixture of Mediterranean cuisine, the recipes of its conquerors and the nomadic traditions of the desert. Tunisian poetry, always non-conformist and innovative, in contact with French culture acquired a marked critical approach. And his football, of course, is also the son of multiculturalism.

The ball arrived in Tunisia with the Frenchbut the other national and religious groups settled there (Italians, Maltese, Jews and Muslims) also made their contribution. His first soccer hero, Abdelmajid Chetali, trained as a manager in Germany. The French league has been nurturing Tunisian talent for decades, and in recent years Scandinavia has become another frequent destination for its footballers. But it is the Arab world, its own Tunisian tournament, one of the strongest in Africaand the mighty Middle Eastern leagues like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar, where the Carthage Eagles nest most of their football.

In his last presentations, the playoffs for the World Cup, the Qualifiers for the African Cup and the Kirin Cup, Tunisia presented a stable squad of about 25 footballers. Two out of three play in leagues within the Arab world. Barely eight footballers militate in Europe: Elijah Achouri (23 years old, Viborg FF), Hannibal Mejbri (19, Birmingham), Anis Ben Slimani (21, Brondby), Issam Jabali (30, OB), Ali Abdi (28, Fall), Mohamed Drager (26, Luzern), Montasar Talby (24, Lorient) and rami kaib (25, Heerenveen).

The World Cup is close but Kadri’s cycle as Tunisia coach is just beginning. He has managed less than a dozen games since he took office in January 2022. The team still does not have a fixed 11 but in these few months it already expresses clear ideas that they had been working with his predecessor, Mondher Kebair, and that Kadri, who was his assistant, knew how to continue with more success.

The offensive game of a few years ago was abandoned, the defensive solidity and tactical order are its bastion. Tunisia combines those qualities with the right performers. Kadri prefers experienced and intelligent footballersmostly the same base that was at Russia 2018, over the young talents. His preferences are based on his experience of more than two decades as a coach. First, by taking clubs to the Tunisian 1st division, which gave him extensive knowledge of local football. And, later, as a globetrotting DT in the Middle East with a visit to Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Libya.

To carry out her game plan, Kadri searched and found the necessary pieces without having to go far, in those familiar places. He chose footballers, between 27 and 30, who are the figures of Tunisian football, especially from the powerful Espérance, and the major leagues in the Middle East. As an example, in the decisive match to qualify for Qatar 2022, the Tunisian starting 11 only had 2 “European” players.

The most experienced footballersas their Captain Youssef Msakni (31, Al-Arabi), Ferjani Sassi (30, Al Duhail), two that shine right in Qatar, or Seifeddine Jaziri (29, Zamalek SC), are the ones who bear the responsibility of applying these ideas in the field. The young promises, which the previous DT successfully tested in the 2021 Arab Cup, such as Mejbriare revulsive that complement the campus.

Youssef Msakni, captain and figure of Tunisia EFE

With such a flat payroll, such a collective philosophy and so much turnover, it is difficult to find a stable formation in Tunisia. The bow usually defends him Bechir Ben Said (27, from the Tunisian Monastir), was the goalkeeper in the series against Malibut during the Kirin Cup added minutes Aymen Dahmen (25, from the local Sfaxien) so the fight for ownership in Qatar is open.

In defense, the line 4 and the presence of Talbi in the rear are one of the few certainties. The Tunisian shines in France and is a pillar despite his youth. It is a sign that Kadri has ideas but not dogmas. His companion is usually Nader Ghandri (27, African Club of Tunisia) but the veteran Bilel Ifa (32, Al-Kuwait) you can also double it. Dylan Bronn (27, Salernitana), who was at Russia 2018, could return now that he plays more often for his new club. on the bands, Dräger is usual in Right side and the experienced Ali Maâloul (32, Al Ahly) on the leftbut a “European” like Ali Abdi (28, Fall), knew how to replace both.

In the Half courtthe heart of this team full of flyers tactical and cerebral, is where we find more Arab football. Aissa Laidouni (25, Ferencvarosi TC), who was in every match of the Kadri cycle, marks the times. Next to him, the veteran usually divides the field Sassione of the figures of the Qatari League, and the Tunisian soccer star, Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane (23, Esperanza). They also started in some recent games Ghailene Chaalali (28, Esperance) and himself Mejbri. For now, ellyes skhiri (27, Köln) did not have chances in this cycle and it will be necessary to see if he is in time to have them.

On offense, the scorer Jaziri and Captain Msakni seem to have secured places. You should join them Wahbi Khazri (31, Montpellier) who has not yet added minutes in the Kadri era but is expected to return to the National Team for the World Cup. After a difficult semester losing the category in Ligue 1 with Auxerre, this season he started with many minutes and goals in his new team. In more conservative versions, or at moments in the game, a striker can make way for an experienced midfielder like Naïm Sliti (30, from the Saudi Al Ettifaq), the “European” Jebali, or a creative and self-sacrificing Ben Slimane, another “Scandinavian”, one of the youngsters who played the most in this series.

The Tunisian National Team deepened its choral and nationalist identity during 2022, under the command of Kadri. the brand new coach built his team from back to front, with defensive solidity and tactical intelligence. These Eagles are characterized by their experience, their familiarity with Arab football and their collective spirit.

In a team without world-renowned players, Tunisia is made strong from the sum of the parts. That plural identity is what has kept the Eagles, during the last decades, in the forefront of African football and in the stable cast of the World Cup. “Our strength is the collective. The World Cup is not for star players. Cristiano, Messi and Neymar could never win it”, points out Wajdi Essid, another Tunisian coach with a tour of Arab football. Qatar 2022 will be Tunisia’s fifth participation in the last seven World Cups.

Somehow, this Tunisia shows the qualities of their coach. Kadri came from anonymity to lead the national team and perfectly represents the ideal of the average Tunisian. He is an ordinary man, from Tozeur, a town in the interior, far from the opulent Mediterranean cities. Educated in national schools, of French tradition, like his football, but proud of his Tunisian nationality. Hardworking and dedicated, he is an example that the social mobility that Tunisian society believes in exists. And, above all, a person willing to give the best version of himself when he represents his homeland.

Kadri preaches in his squad a strong work ethic and a nationalistic responsibility that motivates his footballers and makes his fans fall in love. The dream of a united and invincible Tunisia unites them. The DT made it clear from his first game, in Mali, for the first leg of the playoff to go…