With his side leading 1-0 against Japan with just three minutes of normal time remaining, Tunisia goalkeeper Hamza Ben Chrifia was enjoying a perfect afternoon in his first outing at the FIFA U-17 World Cup United Arab Emirates 2013.
The North Africans had withstood a second-half onslaught from the the Asian opponents, their keeper impressing as they defended a result that would see them advance to the last 16 of the competition as Group D winners. Alas for Ben Chrifia and his team-mates there was to be a very nasty twist at the end, as Daisuke Sakai fortuitously pulled the persistent Japanese level on 87 minutes and Ryoma Wanatabe slotted home their winner in stoppage time.
Speaking to FIFA.com afterwards, the luckless keeper said: “We are satisfied with our performance, but we switched off a little bit at the end of the game, which changed everything. The Round of 16 will be a fresh start for us though, and we are not planning on stopping there either.”
Having already qualified for the knockout stage after their second group matches, both sides decided to ring the changes, with Ben Chrifia being given an opportunity to excel between the posts for the Tunisians, just as he had done in deputising for the injured Sabri Ben Hessen during the African qualifying competition.
Indeed, so good were Ben Chrifia’s performances during the qualifiers that coach Abdelhay Ben Soltane hinted he was having doubts as to who would be the Carthage Eagles’ first-choice keeper at UAE 2013. And even though Ben Hessen ultimately regained his place in the side, his understudy bears no grudges: “All the keepers in our side are good, and there’s a lot of healthy competition between us. We keep pushing each other.”
In the shadow of a giant
The understudy role is one Ben Chrifia is also used to at his club Esperance, where the man who dons the gloves in the first team is none other than his big brother Mouez, who at the age of 22 has also become Tunisia’s No1 and is now gearing up for the second leg of their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ play-off against Cameroon on 17 November.
“Mouez is the player I look up to in Tunisia and across the Maghreb,” said the teenage custodian, full of admiration for his sibling. “He has bags of experience and he gives me advice every day to help me do my job effectively. He shows me how to command the box and position myself. My brother means the world to me.”
Far from coveting his sibling’s position for club and country, Ben Chrifia wants nothing more than for the two of them to appear side by side: “My dream is to play for Tunisia with him. I’d love that to happen, even if I were on the bench.”
And when the conversation turns to his chances of getting more playing time at UAE 2013, the young Tunisian shotstopper reveals himself to be almost as supportive of Ben Hessen: “Sabri and I are as one,” he explained. “If he’s keeping goal, then it’s not a problem. What I want more than anything else is for us to go far in this competition, to go all the way. I want to be a world champion. Obviously I’d like to play more games, but that’s up to the coach and I’ll respect his decision, as I always have.”
With a selfless approach like that, the patient Ben Chrifia deserves every opportunity he gets to spread his wings.