Though political instability has afflicted Tunisia in recent times, the nation’s U-17 team have been quietly and impressively getting on with things, securing a best-ever third place at the CAF African U-17 Championship earlier this year and earning a ticket to the FIFA U-17 World Cup United Arab Emirates 2013.
While the Carthage Eaglets have reached the world finals on two previous occasions, this latest qualifying achievement has a special feel to it, coming as it has in spite of all the upheaval back home. On top of that, the Tunisians booked their UAE 2013 berth in neighbouring Morocco, reaching the last four before eventually eclipsing their North African rivals 11-10 in a record-breaking 24-kick penalty shoot-out in the match for third place.
Reflecting on the performance of his players, coach Abdelhay Ben Soltane said: “We pulled it off thanks to the hard work of the coaching staff and the players, who kept their heads despite their young age and who executed their game plans perfectly right through the tournament. They gave their very best on a technical and tactical level, and that’s not easy at this age.”
The draw for UAE 2013 takes place in Abu Dhabi on 26 August. In the meantime the Carthage Eaglets are preparing hard for the tournament behind closed doors at a training camp in Switzerland. All 29 players called up by Ben Soltane play their football in Tunisia, with the exception of Mohamed Tarraga, who is on Freiburg’s books.
The North Africans will play two friendlies against local sides before returning to Tunis for another training camp on 26-31 August, during which time they will play another friendly on the 29th, most probably against Libya.
Their preparations will continue with a squad get-together on 9-15 September, when they will play two more friendlies. Then, at the end of the month, Ben Soltane’s charges will take part in the North African Football Federation Championships, which will take place in either Morocco or Tunisia and will feature a number of African, European and Asian sides, depending on the results of the UAE 2013 draw.
At the start of October comes a three-day training camp involving another friendly. The Carthage Eaglets will then take off for Qatar, where they will complete their preparations and play a final warm-up match, most likely against a team from the Aspire Academy.
Tunisia’s UAE 2013 plans suffered a major blow when their star forward Chamseddine Samti, who plays for Esperance, suffered a serious injury at the end of last month. The player underwent immediate surgery and will be sidelined for three whole months, ruling him out of the world finals, which begin on 17 October.
Ben Soltane’s task in the meantime is to find a suitable replacement who can help the Tunisians improve on their best ever performance in the competition, which came at Korea 2007, when they reached the last 16 before losing 3-1 to France.