Khazri, Sliti absent as Tunisia fall to late England loss
Tunisia followed in the footsteps of Egypt and Morocco by suffering late World Cup opening-game heartbreak as they began their campaign with a 2-1 defeat by England in Krasnodar on Monday.
As expected, the Carthage Eagles were resolute and resilient, and thought they'd escaped with a point until Harry Kane's 91st-minute intervention denied them the chance to take Africa's first point of the tournament so far.
Tunisia rode out the early storm, as they were exposed from the off, and the loss of their second-choice goalkeeper Mouez Hassen to injury to settle into their game and stifle England.
They were perhaps fortunate that Kyle Walker's moment of madness allowed them back into the game via Ferjani Sassi's penalty, but thereafter, they largely frustrated their opponents.
Perhaps the aggression, togetherness, and patience that Tunisia showed could serve them well in the challenges to come.
All of the six goals conceded by African teams at this World Cup so far have been from corners, and Tunisia - for such a well drilled team - again appeared exposed here.
During the early stages, as England ran riot, they were exposed too often, and would have conceded a hatful against a more clinical side.
Finally, with a midfield that possessed at least one fewer defensive-minded player than normal, Tunisia's chief conductor Ferjani Sassi wasn't afforded the kind of platform that could have allowed him to express himself.
Manager rating (out of 10):
6 - Nabil Maaloul's Tunisia side were moments away from getting a result against England, although in truth, they were fortunate that their opponents' finishing let them off the hook early on and that the referee turned a blind eye to several incidents of grappling in the box.
He started without Mohamed Amine Ben Amor and Ghaylen Chaalali in midfield, which left Tunisia short of work rate, and - like the other African sides in Russia - his side appeared unprepared at set pieces.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Mouez Hassen, 7 - A heart-breaking evening for the man who replaced Aymen Mathlouthi in the starting XI. He was up against it early on, and made one fine reflex save to deny Jesse Lingard in the opening minutes before a superb save to deny John Stones only for Harry Kane to turn in the rebound. Injured his shoulder before the goal was conceded, and was replaced soon afterwards.
DF Dylan Bronn, 7 - His sole cross of the game led to Tunisia's equaliser, and it was an encouraging, composed display by one of the squad's new faces.
DF Syam Ben Youssef, 6 - Imposing, but clumsy, and predictably struggled with the pace and movement of Raheem Sterling early on. Erratic at times, but his stopping and blocking kept England at bay after the break.
DF Yassine Meriah, 6 -- Demonstrated good anticipating and game reading, and while there were a few moments of last-gasp defending, this wasn't unexpected. He was key to Tunisia's slow build from the back, but didn't win enough first-time balls.
DF Ali Maaloul, 6 -- A quiet outing from the captain, who didn't have much opportunity to express himself going forward.
MF Ellyes Skhiri, 6 -- With Ben Amor and Chaalali absent, he shouldered a lot of the defensive responsibility in midfield, making three tackles.
MF Ferjani Sassi, 6 - Threatened with his delivery on a few occasions, but didn't make a key contribution until his magnificent penalty evaded Jordan Pickford on 35 minutes. Struggled with the movement of Jesse Lingard and with only one ball-winner alongside him, didn't have as much possession as he would have liked.
MF Anice Badri, 5 -- He appeared limited in a deeper role, and charged with a more defensive brief in the absence of Ben Amor and Chaalali. Was increasingly pushed back as the second half progressed.
FW Naim Sliti, 5 -- A really disappointing outing from Sliti, who completed two dribbles, but failed to truly demonstrate the technical or creative qualities that have made him such a key threat in Ligue 1. His finishing was wayward and he was withdrawn on 73 minutes.
FW Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, 7 -- Hard-working, if at times ineffective, when positioned on the right flank, he caused more trouble in the centre - notably in troubling Kyle Walker enough to win Tunisia the penalty from which they equalised. Deserves credit for his defensive shift.
FW Wahbi Khazri, 5 -- Did a lot of chasing during the first half, but largely appeared isolated and - when picked out - was too far from goal to truly trouble England's defenders. Didn't live up to the billing.
GK Farouk Ben Mustapha, 6 -- Was kept busy, like his predecessor, and delivered some smart saves after coming on in the 15th minute.
However, there were moments of rashness, notably when he tore out of his goal to deny Lingard late in the first half, and was lucky that the Manchester United man stayed on his feet and sent his effort against the woodwork.
MF Mohamed Amine Ben Amor, 6 -- Defended excellently after coming off the bench, making three tackles, but was careless - critically - to give away the late corner.
FW Saber Khalifa, N/R
Ed Dove is the Soccer Editor for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @EddyDove.