The latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking has Tunisia as the best-placed African side in 23rd, a position the Eagles of Carthage have not scaled since 2015, when they peaked at 22nd.
The North Africans’ latest jump comes as a result of their superb showing in the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, which saw them advance to the biggest event in world football at the expense of Congo DR.
Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina and Belgium lead the pile, while Africa's best five are the only ones in the roll of first 50 nations. Tunisia (23), are followed by Senegal (27), Congo DR (39), Morocco (42) and Egypt (43) in that order.
The perfect campaign
Tunisia are not Africa’s highest-ranked side by accident, having gone unbeaten in the Russia 2018 preliminaries and picking up four wins and two draws in the third and final round. Nabil Maaloul’s charges then backed up that performance by defeating Egypt in their opening qualifying match for the 2019 CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
Wahbi Khazri is one of the main architects of Tunisia’s impressive recent run. “We’ve got a fantastic generation and it’s really delivering on its promise now,” he told FIFA.com. “Everyone plays for the team and it’s more than just the 11 players on the pitch. We’ve got 23 or 24 players ready to go out there and give their all. The coach believes in us, which gives us the energy we need to succeed at the World Cup.
“Our strength lies in our preparations as a team,” he added. “All our internationals, or nearly all of them, are first-choice players with their clubs. We’ve been working hard with our clubs. That’s very important, if we want to be on top of our game with the national team, on a technical and physical level. It’s hard to earn a place and everyone knows they have to work hard at their clubs to get selected, which explains why the national team has come on so much recently.”
Three key results on the road to Russia 2018
Tunisia 2-1 Congo DR (1 September 2017)
Congo DR 2-2 Tunisia (5 September 2017)
Guinea 1-4 Tunisia (7 October 2017)
Giving his explanation of Tunisia’s success of late, forward Youssef Msakni said: “The team plays with grit and determination. The midfield trio of Ferjani Sassi, Ghilane Chaalani, and Mohamed Amine Ben Amor are our engine room and they give us something that we lacked in the past.”
Speaking the day after last December’s Final Draw at Moscow’s State Kremlin Palace, Maaloul was under no illusions about the scale of the task that awaits the Tunisians in Russia: “We’re going to be coming up against some great teams. Belgium are fifth in the world rankings, England are 15th, and Panama will want to spring a surprise.”
Maaloul is nevertheless optimistic about his side’s chances: “Our aim is to reach the second round.” Make no mistake, the soaring Eagles of Carthage will be doing all they can to achieve that objective at Russia 2018.
Tunisia’s group fixtures at Russia 2018:
Tunisia-England (18 June, Volgograd Arena, 21:00 local time)
Belgium-Tunisia (23 June, Spartak Stadium, 15:00 local time)
Panama-Tunisia (28 June, Mordovia Arena, 21:00 local time)