The first Africa Cup of Nations played during the summer months gets under way on June 21.
Host nation Egypt, captained by Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah will be looking to get off to a good start when the Pharaohs face Zimbabwe at the Cairo International Stadium.
A number of world class players will be on show including Salah’s Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane as well as Morocco and Ajax star Hakim Ziyech and Crystal Palace talisman Wilfred Zaha, who will be representing the Ivory Coast.
The 2018 World Cup is in full swing now, with many over half of the group stage matches played – all of which have been live on talkSPORT.
Today, Sunday, there are another three games, the first of which sees Belgium take on Tunisia from Moscow.
Belgium: Belgium’s current ‘golden generation’ is full of world class players, but the pick of the bunch is Kevin De Bruyne. The Manchester City midfielder enjoyed the best season of his career under Pep Guardiola, and if he can continue this form into this summer’s tournament, Belgium will take some stopping.
Tunisia: Wahbi Khazri plays his club football for Rennes in France, on loan from recently relegated Championship side Sunderland. A technically gifted playmaker, much of Tunisia’s attacking play will go through the 27-year-old.
Belgium: Courtois; Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen; Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel, Carrasco; Mertens, Lukaku, E. Hazard
Tunisia: Ben Mustapha, Meriah, Syam Ben Youssef, Bronn, Haddadi, Skhiri, Badri, Sassi, Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, Khazri, Sliti
Replays showed Harry Kane was hauled to the floor numerous times in the box during the game but England were not awarded any penalties.
And to anger the England faithful even more, Kyle Walker was penalised for an arguably soft clash in the box with Fakhreddine Ben Youssef.
Ferjani Sassi scored the resulting spot-kick to peg England back after Harry Kane gave the Three Lions an early lead.
It looked like it was going to be another frustrating game at a major tournament for England but Kane’s 90th-minute header gave Gareth Southgate’s men all three points.
But despite the jubilation across the country, many supporters took to Twitter to voice their reservations over the referee, including the likes of England’s record appearance holder Peter Shilton and England cricket legend Alec Stewart.
Below you can see what just some England fans thought of Roldan.
Great result for England dangerous from set plays and Kane did what a captain should.Some real positives but also one or two disappointing performances. Room for improvement also hope we don’t get such a bad referee again! @England@FIFAWorldCup
The referee for England v Tunisia, Wilmer Roldan, has a complicated history with VAR. Last year’s Confederations Cup match between Cameroon and Germany saw a case of mistaken identity and a yellow card turned to a red all in the same incident and Roldan was in charge. https://t.co/92sDbMpijP
Probably the first bad referee of the World Cup, and the same referee responsible for sending off the wrong player in the Confederations Cup, and also being responsible for River Plate's Copa Libertadores exit after missing a blatant handball and penalty decision.
Belgium got their World Cup campaign off to a perfect start by defeating Panama 3-0 at the Fisht Olympic Stadium.
A drab first half gave way to a much more thrilling second period, aided by Dries Mertens opening the scoring just two minutes after the restart with a supremely fine volley.
Romelu Lukaku added a double in the final 20 minutes to round off a victory that appears much more impressive on paper than it did in reality.
But, just how did Roberto Martinez’s side perform in Sochi? talkSPORT.com’s Belgium player ratings can be seen below…
Was rarely called into action by Panama’s poor attacking force, but he completed all required jobs with ease. Tougher faces await for Courtois.
Was offered a lot of time and space on the ball to showcase his passing ability, and looked to support Belgium’s attack as much as he could. He spent a lot of the game pushed wide, which allowed Meunier to sit high up the pitch. Not an impressive performance on paper, but one that allowed Belgium to line-up and attack as they did, which in itself is a valuable quality.
The deepest of Belgium’s defenders, Boyata was more than a match for Blas Perez, the Panama forward, who attempted to bully him. Boyata also looked good when breaking forward out of the back line while in possession, adding another body to Belgium’s midfield pivot. He did appear shaky when faced with an opponent running directly at him, however, raising doubts over his capabilities at defending one-on-ones.
Calm and composed, as expected, on the left side of Belgium’s three-man defence. He was forced into action a lot due to Carrasco’s errors on the left flank, and never looked troubled by Panama’s right-sided players. He was comfortable moving to a left-back position when Witsel dropped into the back line, or moving more centrally when Boyata pushed into midfield.
He stayed pinned to the right flank almost constantly, and pushed very high up the pitch with Mertens staying inside. Many of Belgium’s best chances came from Meunier’s overlapping runs creating space behind the Panama defence. He faded in the second half, and was content to sit a bit deeper and not provide the driving runs he did in the earlier stages.
He flitted around in midfield and looked to support Belgium’s attack, but never really produced a cutting edge. De Bruyne appeared quite off the pace and sluggish, and was playing far too deep without providing those driving runs of his we have become so used to seeing. The one time he found himself with time and space on the edge of the box, he curled in a perfect cross with the outside of his boot for Lukaku to head home.
Sat in front of Belgium’s back line and kept play simple by receiving passes from the defence and carrying the ball forward. A real lack of dynamism to his play, but made no mistakes. Such a performance will prove more valuable against better teams, when Belgium will actually come under pressure in the final third.
Carrasco has been forced to play in an unnatural wing-back role, and it is clear he is not suitable for such a position. He was making basic errors in defence when under no pressure, and being forced to sit deep also meant he did not really provide anything going forward, unlike Meunier on the right flank, who is a natural in the position. It is no surprise the majority of Belgium’s attacking play was being directed down the right side of the pitch.
Largely ineffectual in the first half as he failed to link up well with either Hazard or Lukaku. He started the second period brilliantly, scoring a fine volley to put Belgium ahead, but returned to providing little in the way of quality after that. It was a poor showing made much better by a truly wonderful goal.
He was all neat touches and skilful play, but to little effect. The combinations between Hazard, Mertens and Lukaku were just not working, and the only danger Hazard posed was when he took it on himself to run at goal. When Belgium were two goals to the good, Hazard found it much easier in the final third as Panama pushed forward and lost their defensive structure. One fine run forward led to Hazard playing in Lukaku to make it 3-0.
Struggled to lead the line against two very physical central defenders. Lukaku has shown many times that his hold-up play is not particularly great, and his touch consistently let him down on this occasion, again. He was forced to drop deep just to pick up the ball, but then struggled to do anything with it. In the final 20 minutes, Lukaku proved he is best when inside the opposition area, making space for himself to head home De Bruyne’s cross, then running onto Hazard’s ball to chip a lovely finish over the keeper.
Added another body in midfield but never really got into the game following his introduction.
Spent too little time on the pitch for a fair assessment
Spent too little time on the pitch for a fair assessment
It was decided at the draw in December that England will face Belgium, Tunisia and Panama in Group G at the 2018 World Cup.
The tournament is now nearly upon us and the Three Lions have been preparing diligently.
England won both of their pre-tournament friendlies against Nigeria (2-1) and Costa Rica (2-0), but how have their opening opponents Tunisia handled their practice matches?
Scroll down to see how Nabil Maaloul’s side have performed in their recent 2018 pre-World Cup friendlies.
May 28: Portugal 2-2 Tunisia (Badri, Ben Youssef)
Portugal threw away a 2-0 lead in this match that they played without Cristiano Ronaldo. Ricardo Quaresma’s cross found Andre Silva who headed the home side ahead and a Joao Mario wonder strike doubled their lead. However, Tunisia proved they can deal with adversity by fighting back with a strong strike from Anice Badri and 64th minute equaliser from Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, who found himself on the end of a beautiful ball from Ali Maaloul.
June 1: Tunisia 2-2 Turkey (Badri, Sassi)
Tunisia again had to come from behind in this match as Everton’s Cenk Tosun put Turkey ahead from the penalty spot after 54 minutes. Anice Badri smashed in his side’s equaliser two minutes later and Tosun then saw red for threatening his own team’s fans! Tunisia appeared to have won the game against their ten-man opposition with Ferjani Sassi’s 79th minute strike, however an injury time equaliser from Caglar Soyuncu handed England’s group G opponents their second successive 2-2 draw.
June 9: Tunisia 0-1 Spain
In their final pre-tournament friendly, the Eagles of Carthage faced a tough take against Spain. Despite ultimately suffering defeat to their formidable opposition, Nabil Maaloul’s team played relatively well. A lack of clinical finishing ability cost them as they had plenty of chances in the first half, most notably missed by Feranji Sassi and Naim Sliti. In the second period, Spain took over and Iago Aspas’ late winner handed them a narrow victory.
Tunisia take part in their fifth World Cup this summer in Russia. talkSPORT.com take an in-depth look at the Group G nation…
Nabil Maaloul, a former Tunisia assistant manager, was appointed head coach of his country in April 2017 with a contract running until the end of this summers World Cup. The 55-year-old has only overseen nine games since his appointment, though Tunisia remain undefeated in that spell.
His most successful spell as a coach came at the same club with whom he established himself as a player, Esperance de Tunis. Maaloul won numerous leagues and cups while playing for the club in the 1980s and 90s. He guided them to two further league titles, as well as the Tunisian Cup and the 2011 CAF Champions League, while manager.
Veteran goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi is the current captain of Tunisia going into the World Cup. The 33-year-old made his international debut in 2007 and has been first-choice glovesman ever since, going on to represent his nation 70 times. The majority of his club career has been spent in his homeland with Etoile du Sahel – winning various domestic and continental honours – though he currently plays for Al-Batin in Saudi Arabia.
Wahbi Khazri plays his club football for Rennes in France, on loan from recently relegated Championship side Sunderland. A technically gifted playmaker, much of Tunisias attacking play will go through the 27-year-old, and he will have to be at his best if they want to progress past the group stage at this summers tournament.
A set-piece expert, much of Tunisias threat will come from free-kicks and corners, and Khazri will hope to be the difference-maker in a solid but relatively uncreative side.
ONE TO WATCH
Saif-Eddine Khaoui has already caught the eye in France and Marseille moved to buy him from Tours last summer. He joined Troyes on loan at the start of the season, and has put in some bright performances for the relegation battlers. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder has scored five goals and created a further two in 32 appearances, an impressive total for one of the poorest squads in the division.
Khaoui has represented Tunisia twice since making his debut in March, and he could show off his talents on the world stage if he can establish himself in Maalouls plans before the big kick-off this summer.
Monday, June 18: Tunisia v ENGLAND (Volgograd Arena, Volgograd) – kick-off 19:00
Saturday, June 23: BELGIUM v Tunisia (Otkrytie Arena, Moscow) – kick-off 13:00
Thursday, June 28: PANAMA v Tunisia (Mordovia Arena, Saransk) – kick-off 19:00
RECORD IN QUALIFYING
Tunisia defeated Mauritania over two legs in the second round of the CAF qualification campaign to book their place in the third round, in which five groups of four teams fight for a place in the finals. Tunisia finished top of their group, one point ahead of DR Congo, to guarantee their qualification for Russia. Their solid but unadventurous style of play shone through in Group A, as they scored just 11 goals in six matches, but also conceded only four.
Maalouls men had three matches in the build-up to Rusia, drawing 2-2 with Portugal, 2-2 with Turkey and losing 1-0 to Spain.
Imperial Park Hotel & Spa, Moscow
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