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World Cup 2018 team preview: Tunisia has a tall task in Group G

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. Next up in Group G is Tunisia.

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and dig in to all 32 team previews, eight group previews, power rankings, features and so much more.

Outlook

Odds to win Group G: 7.7%
Odds to advance: 25%
Odds to win World Cup: 0.2%
Elo rank: 51
Yahoo Sports power rank: 30

Our writers say: One of Africa’s five representatives in Russia, Tunisia failed to qualify for the previous two iterations of the World Cup and has only won a single match in four appearances at the tournament. There are no household names in the squad, but to their credit, the Tunisians emerged from qualifying undefeated. If Doctor Strange could foresee 14 million scenarios for the World Cup group stages, it’s likely that only one of them would see Tunisia emerge to the knockout rounds. Ryan Bailey

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Wahbi Khazri will take on an oversize creative load for Tunisia at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

Basics

World Cup appearance: 5th
Best World Cup finish: Group stage (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006)
2014 finish: Did not qualify
Qualifying: Topped Africa’s Group A ahead of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Schedule: England (Monday, June 18, 2 p.m., FS1), Belgium (Saturday, June 23, 8 a.m., Fox), Panama (Thursday, June 28, 2 p.m., Fox/FS1)

[Group G preview]

Squad

Manager: Nabil Maaloul
Captain: Aymen Mathlouthi (G)
Top players: Wahbi Khazri (M)
Full 23-man squad

Breakdown

Why they’ll win games: There are really only two cases for Tunisia winning games in Russia. One is that it’s not the worst team in its group. (Hello, Panama.) The other is that the “fighting spirit” that the team possesses is more than just a euphemism for “not very talented.” The Eagles of Carthage did, after all, stage two vital comebacks toward the end of qualification to reach Russia. They gave all Spain it could handle in a pre-World Cup friendly. Don’t underestimate them simply based on a glance at their roster.

Why they’ll lose games: The man who led one of those comebacks with a hat trick, and who leads much of what Tunisia does in general, won’t be in Russia. Youssef Msakni tore a knee ligament in April and will miss the World Cup. Without him, there’s a creative void, and in general a distressing lack of quality in the middle and final thirds.

How they’ll play: Through Khazri, who, in Msakni’s absence, is the sole playmaker. They’ll likely have to rely on set pieces, and on a rugged, active midfield to protect an occasionally shaky defense. But Maaloul has them pressing and breaking well as a unit. The defensive ability of the front six is a strength.

Projected lineup (4-3-3): Aymen Mathlouthi; Hamdi Dylan Bronn, Yassine Meriah, Syam Ben Youssef, Ali Maaloul; Ellyes Skhiri, Ferjani Sassi, Saif-Eddine Khaoui; Naim Sliti, Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, Wahbi Khazri.

With Msakni and Taha Yassine Khenissi out, there’s one huge question mark up front. Ben Youssef appears to be the answer, albeit a tentative one. Khazri missed a recent friendly with a leg injury, but should be good to go.

Rooting Guide

What makes them unique: Tunisia is one of six predominantly Muslim nations at the 2018 World Cup. That’s notable, because Ramadan is underway, and won’t end until the day after the World Cup opener. It therefore presents a dilemma for Muslim players: To fast or not to fast? Faith or football?

Tunisia’s players apparently are fasting … and they came up with a cheeky ploy that allowed players to break their fast when sunset occurred during the second half of games.

Why to root for them: They’re our best hope for an England group stage exit, and all the schadenfreude that would come with it.

Why to root against them: They’re neither good nor entertaining.

If you’re going to watch one game … Watch the England game, of course!

More Yahoo Sports World Cup team previews

Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan

Group previews

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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