Tunisia’s ambitions of reaching the FIFA World Cup™ finals for a fifth time were handed a boost at the preliminary draw in Rio de Janeiro as they found themselves paired with the Cape Verde Islands, Sierra Leone Equatorial Guinea, who beat Madagascar in the the first round. The North Africans came within ten minutes of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals but had a place in South Africa cruelly snatched away and have been building a new-look team since.
The Cape Verdians have dipped into the massive Diaspora that the tiny island nation has across the world and built a competitive team with players from across Europe, mainly Portugal, and USA, and are in contention to qualify for the next CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals, which would be their first appearance at a major tournament. Sierra Leone have perennially provided top teams with difficult ties but been unable to build any consistency.
Tunisia might have struggled over the last year in the latest AFCON qualifying campaign, and had their domestic league interrupted by the country’s political revolution, but they have a strong pedigree in FIFA World Cup qualifiers stretching as far back as 1962. A new generation is being moulded by Sami Trabelsi, the fourth coach in charge of the side since the disappointment of missing out on South Africa 2010.
Cape Verde Islands: The ascent of the island archipelago has been marked in recent years, evolving from also-rans into a particularly tough opponent. Young coach Lucio Antunes is due to step down next year, but his successor will find himself in charge of a strong squad.
Sierra Leone: A draw away against Egypt last year was one of several indicators of the potential of the side, whose players are drawn primarily from clubs in Scandinavia and eastern Europe.
The crunch match
The trip to Freetown is likely to be the toughest test for the group favourites Tunisia, when they go up against hosts Sierra Leone. It will be the first time the north Africans have travelled to the Sierra Leone capital as the sides have met just once before, in Sousse in 1996. The atmosphere at the National Stadium is always intimidating and the usually sweltering conditions make it tough for any visiting side.
A look back
Mexico 1-3 Tunisia, 2 June 1978, Rosario
Tunisia came from a goal down to register a first-ever win for an African side at the FIFA World Cup finals, a result that still resonates for the Carthage Eagles. Midfield genius Tarek Dhiab conducted the game in the second half and two goals in the last ten minutes marked a psychological breakthrough for the African game.
1 - The number of scoreless draws Cape Verde Islands have competed in through 20 qualifying encounters. That result came in their debut preliminary match against Algeria in 2000.
Did you know?
Sierra Leone got a second chance at qualifying in the 1998 preliminary tournament after being eliminated by Burundi in the first knockout round. They were reinstated when Burundi then withdrew before the next stage.
Have your say
Do Tunisia have the same standard of players as in the past to ensure yet another trip to the FIFA World Cup finals?