Over 90 per cent of the youngsters currently appearing at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 have one thing in common: they play in their home country. Only a few have had the chance to gain experience abroad at such a young age.
Mohamed Drager is the only player in the Tunisian national side who does not ply his trade in his homeland, and is instead under contract with SC Freiburg in Germany. However, this makes perfect sense for the midfielder. “My mother comes from Tunisia and my father is from Germany,” he explained, in perfect German, in an interview with FIFA.com.
The young man has noticed clear differences in mentality between the two countries. “The atmosphere with Tunisia is completely different to what I experience in Germany; it’s much more laid-back and informal. But that doesn’t mean a lack of concentration on the pitch. I feel more relaxed at the World Cup, you can show your skills more here. I don’t think I’d have played some of the balls did against Japan if the same situation had arisen at Freiburg.”
The 17-year-old scored his first competitive goal for Tunisia against Japan with a powerful half-volley from 20 metres out. The Carthage Eaglets had looked like topping the group for much of the match, but two late strikes from Japan in a technically savvy encounter saw the North Africans slip to second place.
“In the case of my goal, my team-mates who play in Tunisia would have preferred to try to get closer in or would have looked for the pass, but I’ve learned that I should also try my luck when I’m on the edge of the penalty area. That’s the European influence in me. I’ve learned a lot there about tactics and how to behave before you get the ball. The Tunisians think differently,” Drager analysed, sounding more like a coach than a player.
After finishing second in their group, it is now South American champions Argentina rather than World Cup debutants Sweden who await Tunisia in the Round of 16. The two sides met in a warm-up match in Malaga, and although Tunisia spent much of that game on the back foot, they worked their way back to seal a 2-2 draw. “Anything’s possible if we stick to our game plan and play with discipline. We want to at least be among the top four. We reached the Round of 16 in the last U-17 World Cup, so we want to beat that this time around.”
The team is enjoying huge support in the United Arab Emirates. Numerous fans came to support Tunisia in their three group games, and the youngsters can expect a similarly strong turnout for their match against Argentina in Dubai.
Drager reports that Tunisians are crossing their fingers not just at matches, but back in their home country too: “Our matches are being broadcast in cafes and bars. We’re proud of that and it gives us confidence. I’m enjoying it. Our success is a relief for our country after the recent troubles. Perhaps the senior team will also do well at the 2014 World Cup. Everyone has something to focus on, which makes everything much more harmonious.”
Football builds bridges and can even allow people in difficult circumstances to temporarily forget their problems. Whatever happens, Drager and his team-mates want to make sure that there will be at least one or two more moments to celebrate.