Tunisia manager Nabil Maâloul sounded distinctly unimpressed by the standard of his side after their final FIFA World Cup Group G match on Thursday, in which they deservedly defeated Panama 2-1. The Eagles of Carthage had already been eliminated from the tournament after narrowly losing 2-1 to England and being hammered 5-2 by Belgium.
Speaking after the Panama game – and quoted by Spanish newspaper Marca – Maâloul was highly critical not only of Tunisia, but of other Arab national teams. “We have four Arab teams that are not yet at the required level for the tournament, they still have to work harder and improve their performances,” he explained.
Presumably, Egypt and Morocco were among the four Arab teams he referred to – the Egyptians bowed out of the tournament without a single point, while the Atlas Lions were also eliminated early after losing to Iran and Portugal.
In contrast, Maâloul was full of praise for Nigeria and Senegal, both of whom came desperately close to reaching the round of 16.
“Senegal and Nigeria displayed a great level of quality amongst their players even though they did not make it out of the group stage,” he said, adding: “Today we won our match and deserved the victory, but I believe the performances of Nigeria and Senegal were better than ours.”
This has been a disappointing World Cup for Africa – for the first time since 1982, no African nation will feature in the second round of this summer’s tournament. Nevertheless, Maâloul focused on the positives of his side’s performances in Russia.
“We had a very strong defence and played well amongst some of the best players in the world. Against Belgium we could have defended better but the team went in with confidence and performed well in all three games,” he said.
Tunisia’s victory over Panama was their first win at a World Cup since 1978, ending a run of 13 World Cup group stage matches without a win.