Tunisia face reigning champions France as they seek to qualify from a difficult Group D
Having already confirmed a place in the last 16, France visit the Education City Stadium for Wednesday’s final World Cup 2022 Group D encounter with Tunisia.
Meanwhile, the African nation sit bottom of the standings and must overcome the reigning champions to stand any chance of making it through to the knockout stages.
Still waiting for their first goal of the 2022 edition, Tunisia are on the brink of an early exit from the globe’s biggest footballing tournament after coming up short in a 1-0 loss to Australia on Saturday, which saw the Socceroos leapfrog their fellow Group D rivals in the standings.
Mitchell Duke’s smartly-taken header with 23 minutes on the clock was all that it took for Australia to cement their position in the top two, leaving Tunisia - who fought valiantly in a goalless draw with Denmark on matchday one - in fourth place with one game left to play.
Even if Jalel Kadri’s side can stun the world champions and secure all three points on Wednesday, Australia will progress to the last 16 with a win over Denmark, but anything less than victory for the Socceroos will open the door for Tunisia to pounce.
In keeping with the theme of defensive resilience in the lead-up to the World Cup - posting seven clean sheets from eight games before Qatar - Tunisia have only conceded the one goal across 180 minutes of football, but they are one of just two teams still without a goal at the correct end after two matches - the other being Mexico.
The Eagles of Carthage can take some encouragement in the fact that their side have never gone through an entire World Cup campaign without scoring before, and France may just take their foot off the gas slightly with qualification already in the bag. It was only fitting that the current holders became the first side to confirm their place in the last 16 of the 2022 World Cup, as France continue to overcome a myriad of injury problems and pre-tournament struggles results-wise to get the defence of their crown off to an ideal start.
The top-two-clinching win came at Stadium 974 in Saturday’s clash with Denmark, where Kylian Mbappe struck twice either side of Andreas Christensen’s header to ensure that Les Bleus’ journey would not end at the first hurdle.
Only a point is needed for Didier Deschamps’s side to advance as group winners and potentially enjoy a more favourable last-16 tie, but even if they suffer a shock loss, Australia still need a seven-goal swing in their favour to pip the champions to first place. Now boasting six wins on the trot at the World Cup, France could equal Italy’s second-best record of seven consecutive victories on the grandest stage, although they are still some way off matching the all-time record of 11 set by Brazil between 2002 and 2006.
France and Tunisia will be locking horns for the first time since 2010 this week, with that friendly ending in a 1-1 draw, and the last four clashes between the two nations have seen Les Bleus alternate between a win and a draw - a good omen before this tie.
Tunisia boss Kadri should be counting on a fully-fit squad for the showdown with France, with second-choice goalkeeper Bechir Ben Said back on the bench on Saturday after recovering from discomfort.
Right-back Mohamed Drager lasted just 45 minutes of the defeat to Australia before being hauled off by his manager, which could now open the door for Wajdi Kechrida or Ferjani Sassi to start, but Kadri should keep the changes to a minimum either way.
Tunisia’s second-highest goalscorer of all time, Wahbi Khazri, has only made one substitute appearance at the World Cup so far, but the 24-goal Montpellier HSC man will surely come into consideration for a place this week.
As for France, Deschamps could be without second-choice goalkeeper Alphonse Areola due to a back issue, but a multitude of changes can be expected as the Bleus boss spares his first-choice crop for the knockout rounds.
Theo Hernandez is now the only recognised left-back in the squad following brother Lucas Hernandez’s devastating cruciate ligament injury, and Deschamps is reportedly prepared to test out Eduardo Camavinga in a left-back role to give the AC Milan defender a bit of respite.
Mbappe has supposedly decided that he does not want to be rested, but alterations elsewhere could see William Saliba, Matteo Guendouzi, Kingsley Coman and Youssouf Fofana all considered for places.