Down to 1 keeper, Tunisia asks FIFA to allow another
SARANSK, Russia (AP) — Tunisia is down to one healthy goalkeeper and coach Nabil Maaloul is hoping FIFA will allow him to bring in another for his squad's final World Cup game against Panama.
Farouk Ben Mustapha, who started in goal in Tunisia's 5-2 loss to Belgium , has been ruled out of Thursday's match against Panama because of a knee injury during training on Tuesday.
That leaves Aymen Mathlouthi as Tunisia's only healthy keeper because Moez Hassen, who played in the World Cup opener, is sidelined with a shoulder injury.
"This is a dilemma for us," Maaloul said before Wednesday's training session at the Mordovia Arena. "If FIFA does not approve of this addition, we will have to find a solution. Maybe Aymen will be our only option."
Generally, a team cannot make changes to its final 23-player rosters submitted shortly before the tournament. However, Maaloul said FIFA could allow the addition of another goalkeeper under a "force majeure" clause in its regulations.
Maaloul said keeper Moez Ben Cherifia has been flown to Moscow and is en route to Saransk in the event he is permitted to join the squad.
Mathlouthi, now in line to make his World Cup debut, was the only goalkeeper on the field during a portion of Tunisia's training that was open to media.
Meanwhile, Maaloul said he won't discuss his job status with his native Tunisia's national side until after its final game in Russia.
It has been apparent the job means a lot to him; he cried during the Tunisian national anthem before the team's previous World Cup game against Belgium.
While Tunisia struggled against Belgium, it was on the brink of earning a draw with England in its World Cup opener, only to be done in by Harry Kane's late header.
Tunisia will seek its first victory in a World Cup game since 1978 against Panama, and Maaloul defended his overall record going into that match.
"I feel proud and I was honored to be the coach of my national team. We were able to qualify for the World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations," Maaloul said. "These are exceptional achievements."
Maaloul also thanked Tunisia's federation heads for supporting "my decision to rely on new players who'll be stalwarts in the national team for years."
The coach cited Hassen, midfielder Ellyes Skhiri and defender Dylan Bronn — who are all 23 — as examples of the youth infusion he has cultivated.
"There is a new mentality prevailing in the Tunisian squad today," Maaloul asserted. "There is a new style of football."
Panama coach Hernan Gomez, whose squad practiced later Wednesday, said his players remain highly motivated to pursue their nation's maiden victory in a World Cup , even if advancing to the knockout stage in Russia is no longer possible.
"We are still in the World Cup, that's a dream for many of our fans," he said. "We have learned a lot in this World Cup and we want to be in the next one bringing a lot of the experience we got here."
AP Sports Writer Mauricio Savarese contributed to this report.