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2018 World Cup team preview: Tunisia

World Cup Qualifier: Tunisia v Morocco

TUNIS, TUNISIA - OCTOBER 08: The Tunisian team pose for a group photo during the World Cup 2006 African group 5 qualifying soccer match between Tunisia and Morocco at the Rades stadium on October 8, 2005 in Tunis, Tunisia. Back row left to right: Rhadi Jaidi, Hartem Trabelsi, Hamed Namouchi, Klatton Jose, Karim Hagui, goalkeeper Ali Boumnijel. Front row left to right: Adel Chadli, Slim Benachour, Zied Jaziri, Santos, Riadh Bouazizi (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

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Getting to know Tunisia: After missing out in 2010 and 2014, Tunisia are back at the World Cup, making their fifth appearance in total, and fourth in the last six tournaments.

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Seeking just their second-ever win at the World Cup, the Eagles of Carthage are an extremely long shot to advance from a difficult group which also features Belgium and England, but the current generation of mid-20s, in-their-prime stars gives Nabil Maaloul’s its best chance at a first World Cup win since 1978.

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What group are they in? Group F, where they’ll face an uphill battle to beat one of Belgium or England to a top-two spot. They’ll need three points against Panama to have any hope of advancing to the knockout rounds.

Game schedule – Group G – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Monday, June 18: Tunisia vs. England, Volgograd, 2 p.m. ET
Saturday, June 23: Belgium vs. Tunisia, Moscow (Otkritie), 8 a.m. ET
Tuesday, June 28: Panama vs. Tunisia, Saransk, 2 p.m. ET

Projected lineup (4-4-2) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full
— Mathlouthi —

— Bronn — S. Ben Youssef — Meriah — Maaloul —

—— Sassi —— Ben Amor ——

—— F. Ben Youssef —— —— —— —— —— Khaoui ——

— Sliti —— Khazri —

Star player: Wahbi Khazri - Youssef Msakni will miss the tournament due to a knee injury, leaving Khazri to assume the attacking and creative reins in his absence. The 27-year-old attacker tallied nine goals and two assists while on loan (from Sunderland) to Ligue 1 side Rennes this season. Khazri (fitness), however, is in a race against time to be fit for next Monday’s opener against England.

Manager: Nabil Maaloul - The 55-year-old made 74 appearances for his country as a player, and has been in charge of the national team since April 2017. Maaloul was in charge for Tunisia’s final four group qualifiers (2W-2D-0L — wins over DR Congo and Guinea, draws against DR Congo and Libya).

Secret weapon: Saif-Eddine Khaoui - Born to parents of Tunisian descent in Paris, France, Khaoui committed to playing for his nation of heritage in 2015, at the age of 20. He spent the season on loan at Ligue 1 side Troyes, where he scored five goals and tallied two assists.

Prediction: Third place in Group G, thanks to a win over an aging Panamanian side in the two sides’ finale.

Follow @AndyEdMLS