Msakni spearheading Tunisian quest for glory

  • Tunisia need a point against Libya to qualify for Russia 2018

  • Congo DR need to defeat Guinea and hope Tunisia lose

  • Tunisia triumphed 1-0 against Libya in Algeria earlier in the campaign

The countdown is well and truly on ahead of the final round of African qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Egypt and Nigeria sealed their spots during the fifth round of games, and all eyes will now fall on Groups A, C and D, as the campaign reaches its climax, with Tunisia needing just a point at home against Libya to book their ticket.

The Carthage Eagles have moved to the verge of qualification thanks to the hard work of Nabil Maaloul and his players, who have followed their coach's instructions to the letter. They have also made their individual talents count, and few have proved more decisive than Youssef Msakni. Back to his best, the forward helped his side clinch four points away from home in their last two games.

Player profile: Name: Youssef Msakni Position: Forward Age: 27 Height: 5'10 Club: Al Duhail (Qatar)

"Thanks to God, our campaign has been a success until now," Msakni told "Going into our final match in Rades, we need just a single point to qualify for the World Cup.

"This Tunisia team now has a lot of character, and we showed that in our last two games against Congo DR and Guinea. Despite trailing both times, we were able to go home with positive results that have made all the difference."

Tunisia's trip to face Congo DR in Kinshasa was certainly among their stiffest tests. The visitors fell two goals behind, but were able to fight back and claim a draw, though it felt like a victory as they maintained their three-point lead in the section.

While many sides would have cracked under the strain, Msakni and Co dug deep to get the result they needed. "We never lost faith our ability," he said. "On the contrary, because we'd beaten them (2-1) in Tunisia. Our team has the mental strength you need to get through difficult moments. It's not easy to go two goals behind in Congo and then draw level the way we did. It wasn't luck either – it was the result of all the work put in at every level. We never thought about losing and continued attacking until we were finally able to score." t

Goals flow as midfield thrives While Tunisia have undoubtedly impressed of late, Msakni has been crucial to their performances. It was he who turned the tide in the Carthage Eagles' next outing away to Guinea in Conakry, spreading relief throughout his team with an equaliser in first half stoppage time. He then took the match by the scruff of the neck in the second period, completing a hat-trick and having a hand in the visitors' other goal.

"There's no secret," he said. "I'm working extra hard in training and the rest is down to God. Added to that, the quality of my team-mates is another reason for my success. And the coach, Nabil Maaloul, has also given me more freedom on the pitch."

Msakni has been particularly impressed with Tunisia's midfield trio in their recent jousts. "The Tunisia team has played with real determination in the last few games, and that's down to the three players in midfield," he said. "Ferjani Sassi, Ghailene Chaalali and Mohamed Amine Ben Amor have all made it possible for us to move forward, and they've brought us what we were lacking."

The stat 3 - The number of goals scored by Youssef Msakni in qualifying, all of them coming away to Guinea. Will he now find the net against Libya and send his team through to Russia 2018?

Focused on Libya threat With Tunisia needing just a draw against Libya, most African football experts believe they are all but through to the main event. Msakni, however, is keeping his feet on the ground. "We're not afraid of Libya, but we have to be wary because they have a history and it's never easy to play against them. I don't remember us ever beating them easily, or them beating us easily. These games always end up finishing 1-0 or 2-1. This match is a matter of life and death for the Tunisia team. We'll need to be well prepared and focused right from kick-off."

With so much at stake, the role of Tunisia's fervent fans could also prove critical, and Msakni is hoping they too will rise to the occasion. "It's always wonderful to give our supporters something to cheer and to hear them chanting 'Tunisia, Tunisia'," he said. "I ask them all to come to the stadium in Rades and support us against Libya."

Did you know? Tunisia's first-ever World Cup experience came at Argentina 1978, and after a long spell on the sidelines, they qualified for France 1998, Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006. The Carthage Eagles missed out on South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, but are close to sealing their return at Russia 2018.