Morocco ended Tunisia’s first FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign – the preliminaries for Chile 1962 – by edging a replay after a two-legged tie had failed to separate the north African rivals. History repeated itself eight years later, with the Moroccans prevailing in a one-match play-off to decide which of them would go through to the last phase, the Atlas Lions eventually going on to the world finals for the first time in their history.
In the qualifiers for Germany 1974, Tunisia overcame Egypt in the first round, only to lose to Côte d’Ivoire. The Eagles of Carthage redeemed themselves at the next opportunity, however, exacting revenge on Morocco in a penalty shootout to make their maiden world finals appearance at Argentina 1978. They failed to return to the big stage in their next four attempts, a barren spell ended by successive qualifications for France 1998, Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006. The Tunisians looked all set to keep the run going at South Africa 2010, but after earning a seemingly decisive draw away to Nigeria they lost their final game in Mozambique and fell a point short of qualification.
FIFA World Cup finals history
Tunisia have taken part in the world’s greatest football competition on four occasions, the first and most successful of them coming at Argentina 1978. They became the first African outfit to win a FIFA World Cup finals match when they saw off Mexico 3-1 in their opening match in Group 2, their one and only victory in the competition to date. Defeat to Poland followed and though they earned a creditable 0-0 draw against reigning world champions West Germany, the Tunisians failed to make the next round.
In each of their three subsequent appearances they have drawn one game and lost two. The pattern began at France 1998, where a 1-1 stalemate with Romania followed defeats to England and Colombia. At Korea/Japan 2002 Tunisia’s solitary point came against Belgium and was sandwiched by defeats to Russia and Japan, and in Germany four years later they kicked off with a 2-2 draw against Saudi Arabia before coming unstuck against Spain and Ukraine.
The current crop
The Eagles of Carthage laboured to reach Equitorial Guinea/Gabon at the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, only securing passage on the final match day in what looked to be a fairly straightforward group. Once there, they faired somewhat better, making it into quarter-finals but fell to Ghana in a 2-1 defeat after extra-time. They reached the finals in South Africa a year later, but struggled in a tough group containing Côte d'Ivoire, Algeria and Togo, departing at the group stage.
The key players
Issam Jemaa, Amine Charmiti, Oussama Darragi.
Coach: Nabil Maaloul
Best performance in a FIFA competition: FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007 (Round of 16)
Former stars: Faouzi Benzarti, Sami Trabelsi, Youssef Zouaoui