INTERVIEW: Playing Egypt is always exciting even in friendly games, says Tunisia coach

Ahead of Sunday's Egypt-Tunisia friendly, Al-Ahram interviews Tunisia coach Henryk Kasperczak during final preparations for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations

Karem Yehia, Tunis , Karem Yehia, Tunis , Wednesday 4 Jan 2017,
Henry Kasperczak, the Franco-Polish man in charge of selecting the Tunisian football team speaks to the journalists during a press conference in Tunis on December 20, 2016. (AFP)

Al-Ahram has interviewed Tunisia's Polish coach Henryk Kasperczak just a few days before they fly to Cairo to face Egypt in a final warm up game for the 2017 Nations Cup that kicks off on 14 January in Gabon.

What are your expectations for the Egypt-Tunisia game?

We consider Sunday's game in Cairo as our final rehearsal for the 2017Africa Cup of Nations. It's our last international game before the two teams fly to Gabon and Egypt-Tunisia matches are usually intense and exciting even in friendlies.

Can you predict the result?

Results are important of course, even in friendly games but the performance is more important. What also matters is how far the players are ready to put our tactics into effect.

Will you play Egypt with an attacking approach?

We will be focusing on defense because we conceded many goals in the last two friendly games in Spain late December [a 3-3 draw against Catalonia team and 3-1 defeat by the Basque team]. We are mainly seeking defensive solutions, but we will not completely abandon the attack.

Are there any players missing ahead of your Cairo trip?

We will have our full 23-man squad available but two players will be absent due to fatigue; striker Ahmed Akaichi and midfielder Ayman Ben Omar. They will join the squad after we return from Cairo and will fly with us to Gabon.                                            

Which Egypt player catches your eye the most?

There are Egyptian foreign-based players whom I watch when they play with their clubs, especially Mohamed Elneny at Arsenal and Roma's Mohamed Salah, who is a brilliant player. There are other excellent players in the Egyptian team.

Mohmed Salah
AS Roma's Mohamed Salah (L) fights for the ball with Chievo Verona's Nicola Rigoni (R) and Dario Dainelli.

What's your overall assessment of the Egyptian national team?

The team's performance is in a constant improvement after a period of declining form. The team is back with some outstanding players and a great team work. It combined a harmonized group of committed and professional players.

You were in charge of Tunisia when they met Egypt twice in 1997.  Do you remember those games?

Right! They were two matches, home and away, in the African qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup in France. I remember that Egypt dominated the first match in Cairo but we were still able to get a draw that put us through because we won 1-0 at home. Circumstances are now different; we are in two separate roads in different groups.

How do you assess Tunisian player Ali Maaloul's spell at Egyptian club Ahly?

Maaloul is a dedicated and talented player. We usually depend on him in the Tunisian national team. He is an important key player who was always ready when we needed him. He produces very good performances with Ahly whenever he plays.

Ahly's Tunisian left-back Ali Maaloul. (Reuters)


How do you see Egypt and Tunisia's opportunities at the AFCON?

For Tunisia, we compete in a group we call "group of death" along with Algeria and Senegal and of course respectful Zimbabwe. Egypt are not in an easy group either because there are no weak teams in Africa anymore. I think we should be optimistic about the opportunities of both teams so that they can advance to the latter stages of the tournament, especially if the players maintain their challenging spirit.

Do you also think Egypt and Tunisia are capable of reaching the 2018 World Cup in Russia?

Egypt  are in a good situation as they are leading their group. We are also on top of our group but DR Congo are joint leaders, and they will be a tough opponent for the qualifying ticket.  Generally, Egypt and Tunisia have a difficult path ahead of them if they are to reach the World Cup.

You returned to coach Tunisia for the second time after managing the team from 1994 to 98. How do you compare the current generation with the one you coached before, is it better?

Many things changed during those years. There were no foreign-based players back then. All of the national team players used to play domestically but now the Tunisia squad includes a mix of home and foreign-based players. I can't say which generation is better; the first was enthusiastic while the second is more professional.

Are there any differences between Tunisian and Egyptian payers?

All players in Tunisia and Egypt are producing some superb displays. The difference is that Egyptians are more skillful whereas Tunisians are less skilful but more mature tactically.

You previously coached Morocco, Mali, Senegal and the Ivory Coast. With this experience, do you think the future of African football will be dominated by North African teams of or Sub-Saharan's?

All African teams now play modern football. Sub-Saharan teams have better skills but in North Africa there are talented players too; a clear example of that is Algeria who shined during the last few years.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports)

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