Tunisia coach Faouzi Benzarti announced his final 23 man squad on 31st December and there was delight from the fans as he named a young squad that is full of potential. Benzarti’s expected to get his side playing the attacking football that fans of Esperance watch on a weekly basis, and he will certainly institute changes in the team’s fluidity and efficiency that was sorely missing in the qualifying campaign.
Benzarti has the advantage of knowing the ins and outs of Tunisian football better than any foreign manager would and has already shown his faith in home-based players by naming 17 in his final 23-man squad.
The Tunisian squad for the tournament looks like this:
Goalkeepers: Ayem Mathlouti (Etoile), Adel Nefzi (Club Africain), Farouk Ben Mustapha (CA Bizertin)
Defenders: Souheil Ben Radhia (Etoile), Ammar Jemel (Etoile), Bilel Ifaa (Club Africain), Khaled Souissi (Club Africain), Khelil Chammam (Esperance), Radhouane Felhi (1860 Munich), Karim Hagui (Hannover), Yassine Mikari (Sochaux)
Midfielders: Ali Nafkha (Etoile), Zouheir Dhaoudi (Club Africain), Chaouki Ben Saada (Nice), Oussam Darragi (Esperance), Khaled Korbi (Esperance), Chedi Hammami (CS Sfaxien), Haytheim M’Rabet (CS Sfaxien), Houcine Ragued (Slavia Prague)
Strikers: Ahmed Akaachi (Etoile), Youssef M’skani (Esperance), Amine Chermiti (Al-Ittihad), Issam Jemaa (Lens)
Benzarti will be looking for a strong team ethic and will expect big things from two of the countries biggest rising stars.
Oussam Darragi is a player that Benzarti knows very well from club football, the Esperance midfielder has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame in Tunisia thanks to a combination of grace, skill, and vision that has drawn interest from many European teams, including Inter Milan and Werder Bremen.
The 22-year old has already shown the public what he can do with some outstanding performances for the national side. He made an instant impact on his debut setting up Issam Jemaa to score against Kenya, scored his first goal against Mozambique before really catching the attention with a wonder goal against Nigeria. Darragi’s stunning chip over Vincent Enyeama in the final minute of the game gave Tunisia a 3-1 victory and made him a vital cog in the Tunisia side. Darragi has the potential to be the player of the tournament if things go well for the Carthage Eagles.
Darragi isn’t the only youngster that Benzarti will have at his disposal; Club Africain’s Zouheir Dhaoudi will also provide creativity and trickery on the left wing. “Zou” wasn’t a regular under the former coach Humberto Coelho but under the new regime he should expect to have more of an impact and the Cup of Nations could give him the perfect opportunity to demonstrate his abilities.
While Tunisia have a young and exciting squad it is missing one of their best players. Forward Yassine Chikhaoui has been missing from the national team for over a year and this years’ tournament has come too soon for the FC Zurich player which will be a huge blow for Benzarti.
Two other players missing from the squad will also be Fahid Ben Khalfallah and Youssef Mouihbi. Valenciennes midfielder Ben Khalfallah refused a call-up to the squad without giving any reason for doing so and Club Africain striker Mouihbi hasn’t recovered from a lingering thigh injury.
So Benzarti’s young squad will be looking to ease the disappointment of not reaching the World Cup finals with a good performance in the Cup of Nations. The potential of the side will excite fans back home and while this years’ competition might be a bit too early for them to win the competition they should be a side to fear in future tournaments.