the “Lynx” Youssef Msakni, a highly anticipated captain against the Blues

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Tunisian striker Youssef Msakni after the draw between his team and that of Denmark in Doha, during the World Cup, November 22, 2022.

A few centimeters. He missed a breath of success, Saturday, November 26, to Youssef Msakni to equalize and allow his country to pick up the score against Australia just before the break. Infuriating. The captain of the Tunisian team, however, gave everything, pushing his teammates to surpass themselves until the final whistle. But the opponent of the day was too tough (0-1).

This first defeat at the World Cup in Qatar – after a draw against Denmark (0-0) – keeps the Carthage Eagles from qualifying for the round of 16. Nothing is decided however: on Wednesday November 30, they will have to defeat France, holder of the title, and pray that the Australian Socceroos are held in check by the Danes. In short, two miracles…

In the country, it is believed that a large part of the destiny of the national team will go through “the Lynx”, the nickname of Youssef Msakni. The left winger is known for his fast dribbling, unpredictability and outstanding technique. At the Tunisian Stadium café – the name of the Bardo club, a working-class district of Tunis, where the captain cut his teeth – some praise the neighborhood child and his memorable goals.

We remember this sublime rolled up in a skylight, shot at about twenty meters in the dying seconds of the match against Algeria during the 2013 African Cup of Nations (1-0). “He has a wizard’s game, jokes Mohamed Khriji, 68, former physiotherapist of the Tunisian Stadium, newsboy screwed on the skull and shisha in the mouth. He’s our local Messi. »

Infinite admiration

By his side, Feres Himari, 17, a left winger at Stade Tunisien, speaks of the international with infinite admiration. “My father trained him and I would love to follow in his footsteps”launches the young player who looks in replay each match of his idol to draw inspiration from his ball control. ” He started with us very young, vsis why we are attached to him here”, insists Mohamed Khriji. However, Youssef Msakni had failed at the Tunisian Stadium by choosing to join, at 17, Espérance Sportive de Tunis, the great rival, to start his career with the pros. “We had a hard time forgiving him”admits Mohamed Khriji.

With Esperance, the Tunisian football prodigy had expanded his record by winning, among other things, the local championship four times, and a Champions League [d’Afrique] in 2011. French clubs like Lille or Paris-Saint-Germain were interested in him, but Youssef Msakni preferred to sign in… Qatar, in Lekhwiya – which is now called Al-Duhail. Transfer amount: 11.5 million euros, a record at the time for a player playing on the continent.

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Considered one of the most promising young people of his generation, Youssef Msakni had then considered his arrival in the Arabian Peninsula as a “springboard” for Europe. Finally, after a whirlwind stint at Belgian club KAS Eupen, in 2019, he chose to continue his career there by signing for Al-Arabi, another Qatari team. His club choices have sometimes disappointed in Tunisia where supporters and observers are used to seeing their executives evolve in major European teams. “His decision reflected a lack of sporting ambition”regrets Mourad Zeghidi, journalist, specialist in African football.

But Youssef Msakni remained very attached to the Eagles. At 32, he is now experiencing his first World Cup, when he already has ninety selections for the national team and 17 goals. In 2018, a nasty injury cruciate ligaments had forced him to forfeit the World Cup in Russia. “Missing this tournament marked him a lotrecalls Mr. Zeghidi. In Qatar, Youssef Msakni has a double pressure: to lead the national team, but also to prove to himself that he is capable of going far, because, for many Tunisians, his career has a taste of unfinished business. »

Solid Selection

The coach of Tunisia has chosen Youssef Msakni as captain and it is not trivial. “He is a charismatic player and a leader who can do a lot. He has an ability to improvise in small spaces”, believes Zied Tlemçani, former vice-president of Esperance. “He’s a game organizer, the national team is partly built around him, so he has to give the best of himself”, says Mourad Zeghidi. It’s up to him not to hurt himself again…

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In Qatar, Youssef Msakni can rely on a solid selection with 19-year-old hopeful Hannibal Mejbri, striker Wahbi Khazri playing in his second World Cup and rising defender Montassar Talbi. “For the mind, Youssef and the rest of the selection can count on the support of the 35,000 Tunisians living in Qatar. There is already a very good atmosphere on site, carried by the fans.noted Ahmed Adala, sports journalist for a Tunisian radio. “Msakni also has the advantage of support from the Qataris, since he has been playing in the country which has hosted him for almost ten years”, he adds. For the duel against France, Tunisian supporters are expected en masse at Al-Rayyan Stadium.

And at the Stade Tunisien café, customers will continue to squeeze in front of the giant screen installed on the terrace. And hope that Youssef Msakni takes off and does not already play his last World Cup match.

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