SARANSK, Russia (Reuters) - Tunisia have the chance to win their first World Cup match in 40 years when they face Panama in their final Group G game on Thursday but coach Nabil Maaloul said some of his players are yet to mentally recover from last week’s loss to Belgium.
Tunisia were the first African country to win a World Cup finals game, beating Mexico in Argentina in 1978, but have since drawn four and lost nine, including Saturday’s 5-2 defeat to Belgium in their second group game.
Making their fifth appearance in the World Cup, Tunisia, known as ‘the Eagles of Carthage’, fought valiantly in their opener against England to lose 2-1 but have never made it out of the group stage.
“There is no doubt it is a difficult game because my team is feeling down,” Maaloul told reporters, ahead of their match against debutants Panama, who have also lost both their matches and are out of contention for the knockouts.
“I tried to boost their spirits but this was difficult. Some of my players have not overcome their last defeat.
“All are playing for the first time in the World Cup and they want to have a positive result for this to be 9a) great memory for them.”
This will be the first meeting between Tunisia and Panama and securing third place in the group would be some sort of compensation for both.
“We need to score goals, I hope we can do so tomorrow,” Maaloul said. “We want to win but the players feel down. I have thanked them. They could not have done more. They have done everything.”
“We have seen an improvement in the past two days... We are talking constantly to the players to lift their spirits, to boost their morale.
“We will perhaps need to introduce new players who did not play in the last two games.”
Tunisia will likely start with third choice goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi after both custodians - Farouk Ben Mustapha and Mouez Hassen - suffered injuries during their campaign.
Tunisia have asked FIFA to allow standby goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia to join the squad ahead of Thursday’s match.
“It is true we have two goalkeepers injured and this is a dilemma for us,” Maaloul said.
“We only have one now. And perhaps we will be able to add Ben Cherifia who arrived in Moscow. If FIFA doesn’t allow then maybe we will have only one option.”
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Neil Robinson