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Sitting on the bench of the Carthage Eagles since August 2019, Mondher Kebaier will lead the Tunisian selection during CAN-2022. This competition will be the biggest challenge for this 51-year-old coach who has spent his entire career in Tunisia.
Three years after their semi-final in Egypt, will the Eagles of Carthage once again reach the summits at the African Cup of Nations (CAN) in Cameroon? While Tunisia will begin its competition against Mali on Wednesday January 12, coach Mondher Kebaier – a pure product of local football – will have a lot to do to prove that he has the stature to carry the national team.
The native of Bizerte, 51, landed on the Tunisian bench in August 2019 following the amicable separation between the federation and former coach Alain Giresse, after only eight months of collaboration. The muddled tactical choices of the French “white wizard” during CAN-2019 precipitated the quarrel despite the fourth place won, unexpected at the start of the competition.
Federation is looking for a local coach
The Tunisian Football Federation (FTF) then seeks a local coach to occupy the place. Nabil Maaloul and Radhi Jaïdi were also contacted, but it was ultimately Mondher Kebaier who was chosen. The technician, already passed by the most prestigious benches of the country (CA Bizertin, ES Sahel, African Club, Espérance de Tunis), obtains a three-year contract.
At the time, for the president of the FTF Wadie Jary, Mondher Kebaier is the man for the job “, explains Naima Sassi, Tunisian sports journalist, joined by France 24.” The federation was looking for someone who knew the Tunisian mentalities . Kebaier ticked the boxes, he who managed local clubs as well as the Olympic selection. ”
CAN-2022 local coaches
“However, it should be noted that despite his multiple experiences, Mondher Kebaier has won only one title as a coach. It was in 2013, when he headed CA Bizertin”, continues the sports journalist.
On the Eagles bench, Mondher Kebaier hesitates between the 4-3-3 he usually used in a club and a 4-2-3-1 resolutely focused on the attack. He relies in particular on Ellyes Skhiri (FC Cologne), Youssef Msakni (Al Arabi) and Wahbi Khazri (AS Saint-Étienne).
In need of popularity
Under his leadership, Tunisia presents an honorable record: out of 24 games played, 16 have been won, for four draws and four defeats. The Carthage Eagles also finished unbeaten in their CAN-2022 qualifying group, which included Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and Libya.
Regarding the qualifying campaign for the World Cup in Qatar, again Mondher Kebaier can be proud of his results. Despite a misstep against Equatorial Guinea, his men will be there in the third round next March to clinch a second consecutive participation in the final phase, the sixth in total in its history.
The fact remains that despite this statistical record, the popularity of Mondher Kebaier is struggling to take off in Tunisia: “It must be said that the supporters’ threshold is always higher when it comes to a local coach,” notes Naima Sassi. “Some think the selection is too big for him given the quality of the players he has.”
Another reproach made to the coach: his inability to sublimate his team against the big teams of the continent. Mondher Kebaier has already conceded draws against Cameroon and Nigeria, and lost against Côte d’Ivoire and Algeria. At the Arab Cup, despite an exemplary run, he was unable to win the final against Algeria.
However, to triumph at CAN, it will inevitably be necessary to raise the level of play to cast doubt on the favorites, especially during the first match against Mali, a solid outsider of the competition.
“Fans dream of seeing Tunisia win their second African coronation even if the objective is simply to reach the semi-finals,” announces Naima Sassi.
A place in the last four was not enough to save Alain Giresse at the head of the Eagles of Carthage.