Thursday 15 February 2018, 13:18

Trabelsi: England had more big names in 1998

  • Tunisia will kick off their Russia 2018 campaign against England

  • They lost to the same opponents (2-0) at France 1998, where Shearer and Scholes got on the scoresheet

  • Hatem Trabelsi looks back at that match and offers some advice to the current Tunisian players

On 1 December 2017, Tunisia found themselves drawn in the same FIFA World Cup™ group as England, Belgium and Panama. The Eagles of Carthage have previously met two of those nations on football's greatest stage, drawing 1-1 with the Belgians at Korea/Japan 2002 and losing 2-0 to the Three Lions at France 1998.

The Tunisia-England showdown this June will therefore have an element of déjà vu to it, coming as it will 20 years after the pair locked horns in Marseille. To mark the occasion, spoke exclusively to a key member of the African side's starting XI that day, Hatem Trabelsi.

“We were well prepared that day, but we still lost 2-0,” remarked the former defender. “That England team contained some really big names like David Beckham, Alan Shearer, Sol Campbell and Paul Scholes; the same could not be said for us. We competed against some of the very best in that match, and that proved useful during the subsequent stages of our careers.”

The Tunisians managed to hold out against the English for 42 minutes, prior to conceding a goal by Alan Shearer. “We'd played well defensively in the first half, but England were a very strong side,” recalled Trabelsi. "We were afraid of them and that was the telling factor in the end. It's possible that we were lacking a bit of self-confidence at the start of the match.”

Changing times As far as Trabelsi is concerned, English football has changed a lot since 1998, particularly in terms of the number of stars on the pitch – an aspect he claims is lacking in the current team. “In 1998, they had game-changers like the ones I mentioned earlier; today, they just have good players, who give 100 per cent on the pitch.”

The ex-right back is quick to point out, however, that England are not the only team to have changed, and that football in general has also evolved. “You can't really compare the two generations, especially from a skills point of view,” he said. “Back then, England had truly talented footballers like Steve McManaman. Now, their internationals are much less technically gifted. In the past, tournaments were played at a higher level.”

Precious pointers Two decades later, the two teams will go head-to-head once more, on 18 June in Volgograd. With the fixture just a few months away, Trabelsi is keen to pass on some advice to Youssef Msakni and Co.

“They shouldn't be afraid, and they need to make sure they're mentally and physically ready,” he said. “They must be realistic. Even the match with Panama will be very tough. They'll have to play to their strengths. If the results don't come, they'll need to at least try to represent Tunisian football with honour; we've qualified four times for the World Cup and won the Africa Cup of Nations, after all.”

Wrapping up the conversation, Trabelsi raises a final point of note, one that could prove handy for the Tunisians in Russia. “The World Cup offers players an opportunity to get noticed and to perform at the very highest level. I hope that we'll make a big impression on the tournament.”

Did you know? Trabelsi, a right full-back by trade, started out at CS Sfaxien in his homeland, before trying his luck in Europe. During his career, he pulled on the jerseys of Ajax, Manchester City and Al Hilal. In addition, he took part in Tunisia's sole victory at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, in 2004.

Tunisia's schedule in Russia

Tunisia-England (18 June, Volgograd Arena, 21.00 local time)

Belgium-Tunisia (23 June, Spartak Stadium, 15.00 local time)

Panama-Tunisia (28 June, Kaliningrad, 21.00 local time)

Click here to find out more about the Tunisian national team!