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For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and return as all 32 team previews a...

World Cup 2018 team preview: Tunisia has a tall task in Group G

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and return as all 32 team previews and eight group previews roll in.

Outlook
Odds to win Group G: 7.7%
Odds to advance: 25%
Odds to win World Cup: 0.2%
Elo rank: 51
Yahoo Sports power rank: 30

Our writers say: One of Africa’s five representatives in Russia, Tunisia failed to qualify for the previous two iterations of the World Cup and has only won a single match in four appearances at the tournament. There are no household names in the squad, but to their credit, the Tunisians emerged from qualifying undefeated. If Doctor Strange could foresee 14 million scenarios for the World Cup group stages, it’s likely that only one of them would see Tunisia emerge to the knockout rounds. — Ryan Bailey

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Wahbi Khazri will take on an oversize creative load for Tunisia at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)
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Basics
World Cup appearance: 5th
Best World Cup finish: Group stage (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006)
2014 finish: Did not qualify
Qualifying: Topped Africa’s Group A ahead of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Schedule: England (Monday, June 18, 2 p.m., FS1), Belgium (Saturday, June 23, 8 a.m., Fox), Panama (Thursday, June 28, 2 p.m., Fox/FS1)

Squad
Manager: Nabil Maaloul
Captain: Aymen Mathlouthi (G)
Top players: Wahbi Khazri (M)
Full 23-man (or preliminary) squad

Breakdown
Why they’ll win games: There are really only two cases for Tunisia winning games in Russia. One is that it’s not the worst team in its group. (Hello, Panama.) The other is that the “fighting spirit” that the team possesses is more than just a euphemism for “not very talented.” The Eagles of Carthage did, after all, stage two vital comebacks toward the end of qualification to reach Russia.

Why they’ll lose games: The man who led one of those comebacks with a hat trick, and who leads much of what Tunisia does in general, won’t be in Russia. Youssef Msakni tore a knee ligament in April and will miss the World Cup. Without him, there’s a creative void, and in general a distressing lack of quality in the middle and final thirds.

How they’ll play: Through Khazri, who, in Msakni’s absence, is the sole playmaker. They’ll likely have to rely on set pieces, and on a rugged midfield to protect an occasionally shaky defense.

Projected lineup (4-3-3): Aymen Mathlouthi; Hamdi Nagguez, Yassine Meriah, Syam Ben Youssef, Ali Maaloul; Ghailene Chaalali, Mohamed Amine Ben Amor, Ferjani Sassi; Naim Sliti, Ahmed Akaichi, Wahbi Khazri.

With Msakni and Taha Yassine Khenissi out, there’s one huge question mark up front. Akaichi is one of several options.

Rooting Guide
What makes them unique: This doesn’t fit the definition of “unique,” but it seems like a decent place to mention it: Tunisia is one of six predominantly Muslim nations at the 2018 World Cup. That’s notable, because Ramadan is underway, and won’t end until the day after the World Cup opener. It therefore presents a dilemma for Muslim players: To fast or not to fast? Faith or football?

Why to root for them: They’re our best hope for an England group stage exit, and all the schadenfreude that would come with it.

Why to root against them: They’re neither good nor entertaining.

If you’re going to watch one game … Watch the England game, of course!

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