SARANSK, Russia (Reuters) - Tunisia failed to reach the knockout stage of the World Cup at the fifth time of asking in Russia and coach Nabil Maaloul says they will continue to struggle on the biggest stage without drastic changes to the game in the country.
While the North Africans won their first World Cup game in 40 years on Thursday, a 2-1 win over new boys Panama, it counted for little after defeats to England and Belgium.
Maaloul said Tunisia and the other Arab countries at the tournament — Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia — were just not equipped for success.
“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,” said Maaloul.
“In order to do that, we need to have more of our players in professional leagues so they can learn and grow.”
All four sides exited the tournament in the first round, and no Arab country has ever reached the last eight.
“I don’t think we have high-quality performance, we need to change our lifestyle because it is not in line with high-level football, we need to change the way we train,” he said.
“We need two more generations to reach (the top) level of performance in terms of fitness and physical strength. We are far from the required level.”
Tunisia were thrashed by Belgium 5-2 in their second match in Russia but almost earned a point against England in their opener, Harry Kane’s stoppage time winner denying them a draw.
“In the second match we should have been better but I think the performance against England was excellent,” said Maaloul.
“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.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Peter Rutherford