national coach said yesterday he will fear England’s Raheem Sterling
more than Harry Kane, when the two countries play against each other in
the World Cup finals this year. Nabil Maaloul was speaking in Doha,
where the Tunisian national team are preparing for Russia with a 14-day
winter training camp at the Aspire Zone.
Tunisia will meet England in their first game in World Cup Group G, which also contains Belgium and Panama. Asked about his country’s prospects in the opening match, and specific players, Maaloul pointed to the threat from the Manchester City star rather than the Tottenham forward and English captain.
“The most dangerous player for me is Sterling, I think he is one of the best players,” Maaloul said. “People say that Harry Kane is the biggest risk but I think Raheem Sterling is the one. He is the biggest threat as a player.”
He added: “It’s a young team, it’s changed in recent years. The kind of English football has changed a lot after they hired coaches like Guardiola or Conte. It’s a new kind of football, but we are going to be prepared.”
Tunisia will be appearing in their fifth World Cup in Russia. Their first was in Argentina in 1978 where, despite beating Mexico and drawing with West Germany, they failed to make it out of the group stage.
Indeed, Tunisia have yet to reach the knockout stages and Russia could prove tough with top seed Belgium ranked number five in the world and England at 15.
“We are going to be in a very difficult group,” said Maaloul. “We are going to play Belgium and England but we have started our preparations. For both teams we have preparations we are thinking about.” Tunisia, ranked 27, will play Belgium in their second group game.
Maaloul spoke highly of their training camp facilities at Aspire Zone, and said: “This isn’t our first time in Aspire, we’ve entered a previous training camp in 2013.”
Talking about Tunisia’s ambition in Russia, he said: “With the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia five months away, our purpose is to make sure we put on an honourable performance that will make Tunisians and all Arabs proud, that’s our goal. To do that, we need to change the mentality of the players and equip them with a professional attitude to prepare them emotionally for the competition. We have the Tunisian team’s best interest at heart, and we choose what we think is the best for them.”
He added: “We’re fortunate to have been given the opportunity from Aspire Zone and the Tunisian Football Federation to come here for training. The training camp has been successful on all levels. It’s great to be able to have access to such world-class facilities, and medical and hospitality services that are perfectly placed in one place. Aspire Zone has provided us with everything we need, and the training was made even better thanks to the amazing weather. The facilities in Aspire Zone are unlike any other in the world, and it is one of the best in the entire world. We’re very happy with the support we’ve received from the people in Qatar, and particularly the Tunisian residents who were keen to attend our training session for support.”
When asked to give his opinion on the performance of Qatar team, who are currently competing at the 2018 the Asian Football Confederation U-23 Championship, Maaloul, said: “The Olympic national team’s excellent run at the AFC-U23 championship (having qualified for the quarter-finals) was made possible because the youth team has been practising and entering training camps together for years, so they’re more accustomed to each other’s style of play. Their coach is also doing a great job. The team has some very key players, and 80% of them are expected to be seen representing Qatar at the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar.”
Aspire Zone’s Mohammed Mubarak al-Kuwari, Chief Marketing Officer at AZF, also said: “We’re honoured to have the Tunisian national team train here at Aspire, and we congratulate them on their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia qualification. This training camp shortly follows the recently concluded training camps for FC Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, who have returned to Aspire Zone during the winter break for many years. Aspire Zone is proud to house various elite training camps each year in line with their mission to elevate sports in Qatar and become the Reference in Sports Excellence Worldwide by 2020.”
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi and Captain of the Tunisian national team, said: “We’ve been in Doha for 15 days and everyone’s been very pleased with our time here. We’re currently focusing on honing our technical skills and get the necessary medical assessments completed to ensure we’re as fit as we can be.”
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