Youssef Msakni played a key role in Tunisia's qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. Arguably the Carthage Eagles’ biggest star, his goals and assists were invaluable in his side’s march to the finals.
However, after the qualifiers, Msakni suffered a serious injury that prevented him from playing at the global showpiece, something that certainly took a toll on him. For all that, he accompanied the Tunisia squad to Russia, where he cheered them on from the stands.
Fast forward three and half years, and Msakni is finally taking part in a FIFA competition, namely the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021.
Asked about his absence from Russia 2018 and presence at the Arab Cup, Msakni told FIFA.com: “My missing the World Cup was pure fate, and we must believe in that. I worked hard after that and I’m currently playing at the FIFA Arab Cup. The World Cup is coming to Qatar, and I hope we make it.”
Msakni’s magic does the trick
Tunisia’s single-goal victory over UAE all stemmed from an outstanding solo run by Msakni, who shook off the attention of two players and surged into the box. After weaving past several other defenders, he was upended by the Emirati keeper, only for the ball to run to team-mate Seifeddine Jaziri, who tapped the ball into an empty net from three yards out.
Speaking after the match, Msakni said: "We went into today’s game fully concentrated. Unlike the Syria game, we scored an early goal and came close to netting another two, but luck wasn’t on our side. We need to turn the page quickly, however, and not over-celebrate this, because the quarter-finals will be difficult. I hope we can show our strength in the next round.
"The most important thing is that we qualified for the quarter-finals as group leaders, and that made the fans who attended the game very happy,” he added.
Msakni touched on the defeat against Syria, which came out of the blue. "That reverse was really frustrating and that's why we were determined to win against UAE," he said.
"We put that game behind us and are now focused on our next match, which will be on Friday. At this tournament, you have quickly put defeats as well as wins out of your mind and prepare well for the quarter-finals," he added.
Tunisia came to Qatar 2021 with just one ambition: to take the trophy. Their defeat against Syria, however, cast some doubt on their ability to do so.
“Between ourselves, we always say that our goal is to win the Arab Cup. Our aim in every competition is to win the title, but we shouldn’t forget about other teams who have prepared well and also aspire to win the title. We promise the Tunisian fans that we’ll do all we can to go as far as possible in the tournament,” said the former Esperance player.
Anyone attending Tunisia’s games at this Arab Cup will have noticed the tremendous support they have received from the stands, thanks to a large Qatar-based Tunisian community.
“We wanted a positive result against Syria, particularly as there were a lot of fans supporting us, but that’s football. We hope they’ll continue to cheer us on in the coming games,” Msakni concluded.