Tunisia was the slim favorite in their game with Australia, but neither played like it. Australia firmly seized the game in the first half, while all Tunisia could do was watch in terror.
Australia’s first major chance, in the 23rd minute, was a reflection of the Aussies’ tenacity.
Craig Goodwin swung a cross in from the wing, and even though it took a deflection, lead striker Mitchell Duke got his head on it and sent it past the keeper to start the scoring.
Jackson Irvine nearly doubled Australia’s lead, but his shot went wide.
After Australia finished pressuring the goalkeeper searching for a bigger lead, they fell back and let the Tunisians try to breach the final third. There were key blocks from the back line, and several big saves from Matthew Ryan, but the reason
Tunisia could not equalize was because of its own wastefulness.
Youssef Msakni had several shots that easily could have won Tunisia a point if they had landed on target or if he had placed them accurately. The Al-Arabi attacker had six total shots, only two of which fell on target. The game ended in favor of the Aussies, who defended and relied on counter-attacks for much of the second half.
What happened to Tunisia’s offense?
Tunisia’s offense sputtered against Australia. When Tunisia needed a goal the most, the attack could not equalize and get at least one point against the Socceroos.
Tunisia has not scored at the World Cup yet, and its scoring slump extends all the way back to a 5-1 loss to Brazil. The last time Tunisia scored more than one goal in a match was against Japan back in early June.
Part of it may fall down to unluckiness. Tunisia totaled 13 shots against Denmark and had 14 shots against Australia. They have a way of weaving passes around to deter defenders and create chances.
Yet in neither their game against Denmark nor Australia, their primary attackers could not finish off their chances. Lead striker Issam Jebali only had one shot on goal in 153 total World Cup minutes.
Although his attacking partners Youssef Msakni and Naim Sliti had spots of brilliance in the two matches, the attack is flat and depressing.
Tactics need a reset ahead of France match
New manager Jalel Kadri has a lot of connections to the Tunisian FA.
He had an uneventful stint as U20 head coach in 2008 and was a First Assistant Coach for Tunisia during the disastrous Nabil Maaloul period.
Kadri’s most recent stint with Tunisia included a six-month stint as Tunisia’s assistant coach in 2021, where they were good, but not elite. Kadri took over during AFCON when the head coach got COVID. His experience in the tournament was a mixed bag; he knocked off contender Nigeria in the round of 16 but lost to Burkina Faso right after. Regardless, the FA promoted him to the elusive head coach spot and tasked him with taking Tunisia to the World Cup.
He cut it close with a 1-0 win over Mali in the home-and-away third round, but they were in Qatar nonetheless. Now, with Tunisia only 90 minutes away from a potential early exit, Kadri’s long 14-year road to becoming the head coach seems in jeopardy already.
Some of Kadri’s tactics have failed in the World Cup. Kadri switched from his usual 4-3-3 in favor of a three-at-the-back formation. Tunisia only had one match to try out Kadri’s new idea; an unofficial 2-0 win over Iran where they played a 3-5-2.
When Kadri took the field in a 3-4-3 against Denmark, his bold switch looked like it would work. Tunisia was defensively rigid, somewhat threatening on the attack, and they held a World Cup contender to a 0-0 draw.
Yet hindsight is 20/20. When Tunisia took the field a 3-4-2-1 in its second game, the Aussies countered with a 4-2-3-1, searching for a stranglehold on the game. They got early with Duke’s header, and their grip on the game loosened but never let up.
Against France, who played a 4-2-3-1 in its most recent match, Tunisia may want to return to its traditional 4-3-3.
The players know it best from their previous head coach, it’s easy to counter-attack with, and you can fit Jebali(or Khazri), Msakni, and Sliti in the front three. Tunisia needs a win against Denmark, meaning Kadri’s side needs aggression, possession, and a lot of shots.
Possibilities and permutations for Tunisia
Tunisia is certainly in a rough spot as Wednesday’s game with France looms. Tunisia needs an outright win against France and some favorable results from the Australia-Denmark game to potentially advance.
Photo credit: IMAGO / Sipa USA
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