Over the past decade, Tunisia have been one of the top sides on the African continent. The North Africans share, with Cameroon, the continental record for the highest number of appearances in FIFA World Cup™ finals.
Tunisia's first FIFA World Cup foray dates back to Argentina in 1978. On South American soil, the side managed by Abdelmajid Chetali amazed observers by offering Africa its first victory in a global competition, courtesy of a 3-1 win over Mexico. In their remaining two group games, they continued to punch above their weight, narrowly losing out against Poland (1-0) and holding West Germany to a creditable 0-0 draw.
Twenty years later, in 1998, the Carthage Eagles again earned a place at football's global feast. But at the tournament in France, despite the support of a sizeable following, Franco-Polish coach Henri Kasperczak's protégés failed to do themselves justice. Consigned to an early exit by a 2-0 defeat to England and a 1-0 loss to Colombia, they picked up their only point in a 1-1 draw with Romania.
Four years later, it was the same story again, as the Asian adventure led by home-grown coach Ammar Souayah ended lamely after a pair of 2-0 defeats at the hands of Russia and host nation Japan, plus a 1-1 draw against Belgium. History is said to keep repeating itself, and the performances of Ali Boumnijel and Co at Germany 2006 lent further weight to this old maxim. One point was again garnered from three games, which yielded failures against Spain (3-1) and Ukraine (1-0), plus a 2-2 draw with Saudi Arabia for Roger Lemerre's charges.
So, despite being regulars at recent FIFA World Cups, Tunisia are yet to make it past the first round. But on their home continent of Africa, their track record is decidedly more illustrious. Unlucky finalists on two occasions (1965 and 1996), they ended up dispelling their CAF Africa Cup of Nations 'jinx' by clinching the 2004 tournament courtesy of a 2-1 win on home soil over Morocco.
Tunisian football's progress since the 1990s has also been reflected at club level too, with the country's top sides regularly reaching African cup finals. And this upward graphic has been confirmed in 2007, with Etoile Sportive du Sahel beating strongly fancied Al Ahly to take the CAF Champions League final.
That success earned Etoile a ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2007 where they gave a good account of themselves. After beating Mexican outfit Pachuca 1-0, the African champions went down to a slender 1-0 defeat to perennial contenders Boca Juniors before allowing home favourites Urawa Red Diamonds snatch third place from them in a penalty shootout.
To round off an excellent 2007 for Tunisian club football, domestic rivals CS Sfaxien also saw off El-Merrikh of Sudan to win the CAF Confederations Cup.
The success of recent years can, to a large extent, be put down to an improved infrastructure (stadiums, training centres and pitches) and a particularly stable coaching team. Despite the disappointment of Germany 2006, veteran French coach Roger Lemerre spent six years at the helm of the team, also adding to the team's consistency, before his contract ran out in June 2008.
However, Lemerre's departure gives Tunisia the opportunity to embark on a new era led by former Portugal coach Humberto Coelho, who was appointed on a three-year contract on 2 June 2008.
This new wave served notice of its capabilities at Ghana 2008. Unbeaten in the group phase after collecting a win and two draws, the Carthage Eagles earned the dubious reward of a quarter-final with Cameroon. Two goals down after half an hour, the north Africans stormed back to level the tie before going down 3-2 in extra time, an unfortunate end to a game the Tunisians had dominated for long periods.