Tunisia looking to Khazri for creative spark in tough World Cup group

Paris (AFP) –


Tunisia will be hoping that Sunderland winger Wahbi Khazri can provide some punch in attack at the World Cup, after reviving his career this season on loan at Rennes.

The 27-year-old scored 11 goals this term back in France, after an ill-fated move from Bordeaux to northeast England in January 2016.

While his parent club were suffering a second straight relegation to drop into the English third tier, Khazri was helping Rennes finish fifth in Ligue 1 to qualify for European football for the first time since 2011/12.

Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul sprung a surprise when he called up several European-based players for his 29-man preliminary World Cup squad who had not featured in qualifying.

Leicester defender Yohan Benalouane, Montpellier midfielder Ellyes Skhiri and Troyes youngster Saif-Eddine Khaoui were among those drafted in for Tunisia's attempt to reach the knockout stage for the first time.

But Khazri has been a key figure for the Carthage Eagles over the last two years and was an integral part of the side which qualified for a first World Cup since 2006.

The winger scored twice in the final round of qualifying as Tunisia won Group A by one point ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and netted his 12th international goal with the winner against Costa Rica in a friendly in March.

Maaloul's team's success has come from the foundation of a solid defence -- they conceded just four goals in six qualifying group matches.

But they lack the star power to go toe-to-toe with World Cup Group G rivals Belgium and England, with none of their strikers based outside Africa or having scored 10 internationals goals.

Vice-captain Khazri has scored more times for his country than anyone else in the squad, and they may need him to produce a moment of magic if they're to get the result they need against either England or the Belgians to progress from a group also including tournament debutants Panama.