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Underdog Tunisia Eyes First World Cup Knockout Stage Appearance

Tunisia is up against the odds, and it may not have the individual quality to run with the likes of Belgium and England in group play at the World Cup.

Tunisia booked a place at the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 12 years after topping its qualifying group.

It will be heading to its fifth World Cup in its history and will be looking to cause an upset or two along the way as it seeks to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition for the first time ever.

Tunisia may not have a star-studded lineup nor a star individual on whom it can rely, but it could prove to be a dangerous opponent to run into while playing with a nothing-to-lose attitude and looking to stamp its authority on the competition. Here's a closer look at Tunisia entering the World Cup.

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How They Qualified

Having defeated Mauritania 4-2 over two legs to reach the third round of African qualifying, Tunisia was drawn with DR Congo, Libya and Guinea in Group A. It went onto have an outstanding qualifying campaign, failing to lose any of its six games and only conceding four goals.

It opened the campaign with consecutive wins over all three teams before a draw against DR Congo left the Leopards with a chance of snatching first place. However, a crushing 4-1 win over Guinea in the fifth match meant that a 0-0 draw with Libya in the final game was enough for the Eagles of Carthage to secure the top spot and book a place at the World Cup.

It began the qualifying stages ranked as the 40th-best team in the world, yet, thanks to FIFA's metrics and a nine-game unbeaten run that extends to November 2017, it's risen to an all-time best of 14th.

Despite its lack of starpower, it is a team that shouldn't be overlooked.

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Group Stage Games


Tunisia may have felt hard done by after the World Cup draw. Having been drawn in Group G, it will kickoff its campaign against England. Despite the fact England is ranked just one place higher by FIFA, on paper it doesn't look like much of a contest.

The Three Lions will be expected to secure a comfortable victory, although Tunisia will be hopeful that with it being the opening game of the tournament there may still be some rust in the England side. Unfortunately for the Tunisian fans, it doesn't get much easier for them, as the next game will be against one of the favorites to win the whole competition, Belgium.

Up against a lineup involving some of the best players in the world, it'll be a tough ask for Tunisia to get anything from that game, although should it gain some momentum with an unlikely victory against England in the opening match, who knows what could happen.

It will then round up the group stage against Panama in what many expect to be a dead-rubber game. However, should Tunisia have a chance of qualifying from the group stage, it will certainly fancy its chances against an inexperienced Panama side that will be playing at its first World Cup.

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Possible Route To The Final


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With both Belgium and England in the group, it looks as though Tunisia's best chance of getting into the last 16 for the first time will be to finish as runners-up. Should this be the case, it will most likely face either Poland, Senegal or Colombia in the round of 16.

Should Tunisia also pass that test, it faces the daunting prospect of potentially facing defending champion Germany in the quarterfinals.

It doesn't get easier from then on, although the fans no doubt would be delighted by breaking new ground and just getting into the knockout stage, period.

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Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab), Moez Hassen (Chateauroux), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Baten)

Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa), Dylan Bronn (Gent), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek)

Midfielders: Anice Badri (Esperance), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Al Ahli Riyadh), Ghaylene Chaalali (Esperance), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Saifeddine Khaoui (Troyes), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nasr), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier), Naim Sliti (Dijon), Bassem Srarfi (Nice)

Forwards: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ittifaq), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Wahbi Khazri (Rennes)

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Predicted Lineup


(4-3-3) Hassen; Bronn, Ben Youssef, Meriah, Haddidi; Skhiri, Sassi, Khaoui; Khazri, Ben Youssef, Sliti.

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Having two powerhouses of world football drawn in your World Cup group is never ideal. Many are tipping Belgium to finally go on and deliver a major trophy after years of underachieving, or at the very least contend for one, and it will be expected to take care of business against Tunisia.

England will also be incredibly tough to beat, and although one may expect Tunisia to secure a win over Panama, it likely won't be enough.

Fans will be excited to see Tunisia in the World Cup after a 12-year absence, but the expectations should be tempered.