After sealing qualification for only their second ever FIFA U-17 World Cup, expectation is building in Tunisia ahead of this year's elite event in Korea. The Aiglons (Eaglets) were certainly made to sweat for their ticket for August's finals. Having first come through a tough preliminary campaign, the competition at March's CAF Africa U-17 Championship in Togo was no less fierce. Tunisia needed to call on all their reserves of mental strength to grab the continent's final berth for Korea 2007.
Under the stewardship of coach Maher Kanzari, Tunisia got off to an uninspiring start, stumbling to a 0-0 draw against Gabon in their opening group clash. The Aiglons' second match would tell quite a different tale, Tunisia's rejuvenated front-runners hammering three goals past hosts Togo in a clinical display of finishing. Under the cosh for long stretches of a bruising encounter, a brace from Arbi Sadok (18', 79') put Kanzari's boys in the driving seat, with Ben Azouz rounding off the scoring in injury-time. The win fired the Eaglets into top spot, and within touching distance of a place in the semi-finals.
The opponents for their final group game were a solid-looking South Africa side, determined to rain on the young Tunisians' parade. Over the course of a thrilling first period, the Aiglons soared into a 2-0 lead after just 35 minutes through Youssef Msakni and Ben Azouz, only for complacency to kick in with the interval just moments away. In the space of a disastrous three-minute spell for the Tunisian backline, South Africa danger man Philani Khwela struck twice to level the match and hand the Bafana Bafana a share of the spoils. In the event, the 2-2 draw was enough to earn the Eaglets a place in the last four and with it qualification for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007.
Their main mission accomplished, Kanzari's boys came up against the might of Nigeria, world U-17 champions in 1985 and 1993, for a place in the Final. There was to be no upset however, the eventual winners sweeping Tunisia aside 2-0 to end the Aiglons' bid for continental supremacy.
In charge of the latest batch of Carthage Eagle hatchlings is 32-year-old former player Maher Kanzari, who wore the No. 10 shirt with distinction for both Esperance de Tunis and the national team. Having already earned a reputation for favouring the very latest coaching methods, Kanzari can also call upon experience garnered from coaches of the calibre of France's Henri Michel and the Italian Francesco Scoglio. The up-and-coming strategist has imbued a deep-rooted sense of tactical awareness in his young charges, encouraging them to work cohesively as a unit. Using a zonal marking system designed to free up more attacking options, Kanzari's forward-thinking team are sure to cause their opponents many a problem on Korean soil.
At his best in a withdrawn attacking role, Hadhria Nour is the player who makes Tunisia tick. Slimly built and of average height, the Club Africain starlet is blessed with vision, technique and the enviable ability to dribble effectively with either foot. A clean striker of the ball, this attack-minded youngster is clearly one to watch for the future.
What they said...
"We came here, to Togo, aiming to qualify for the World Cup. It's been very tough, but it's incredibly pleasing to have achieved what we set out to do." (Maher Kanzari, Tunisia national team coach)
|21||Mohamed Ali SOUIDI|
|19||Saifeddine BEN AKREMI|
|8||Ala Eddine ABBES|
|9||Mohamed BEN AZOUZ|