Conditions: The unremitting Middle Eastern sun penetrates the yonic aperture of Al Janoub Stadium casting shadows on the verdant oblong oasis. Hot innit.
It might be winter in Qatar but it’s still 30C just after midday and far from optimal conditions for a high-tempo football match.
Surprisingly, just the one change to Australia’s starting XI with Fran Karačić replacing Nathaniel Atkinson at right-back. Socceroos supporters will hope playmaker Ajdin Hrustic is fit enough to make a cameo off the bench.
Just the one change from Jalel Kadri with Naïm Sliti ling up in attack in place of Anis Ben Slimane.
Emma Kemp sets the scene for us from Doha, where Tunisian fans are out in force.
Emma’s report also contains some prematch troop-rousing from Arnold, with the Socceroos coach demanding his side is ready for a war.
Anytime an Australian reaches for such a word it is my responsibility to send you here:
Hello everybody and welcome to live coverage of Tunisia v Australia from Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah. Kick-off in this group D clash is 1pm local time (9pm AEDT/10am GMT).
Neutrals, I’m not in the business of hoodwinking anyone, this is not a premium World Cup fixture.
Between them, in their 33 matches on the game’s greatest stage, these nations have won only four times. They each average less than a goal a game. This is the stale grissini at the start of a banquet.
Mow the lawn. Play with your kids. Ring your mum. Knock up a massive batch of ragu and let it blib away on the stove all day so that when France v Denmark and Argentina v Mexico come around you can watch in comfort.
Fans of Australia and Tunisia, THIS IS THE BIG ONE! You may never get a better opportunity on the game’s greatest stage! A win tonight puts you tantalisingly close to the knockout phase! What a time to be alive!?
Tunisia will begin the more optimistic of the pair. The Eagles of Carthage held their own against Denmark a few days ago and arrived in Qatar with recent victories over Iran, Chile, and Japan. They are also one of the best supported sides at the tournament with many locals and neutrals getting behind an Arab contender.
Australia did not enter the World Cup with grand ambitions and those expectations were not revised upwards after a chastening defeat to France. Simply, this is a limited squad, and it showed against such formidable opposition.
But Australia’s World Cup campaign was always going to come down to this contest. If they avoid defeat to a nation ranked only eight places above them on FIFA’s rankings their tournament remains a going concern heading into a do-or-die clash with Denmark. A win today turns that fixture into a belter.
Graham Arnold has told his troops to treat the France defeat like a friendly and consider their group phase a two-match affair. Changes to his starting XI are expected, especially at right fullback, with Nathaniel Atkinson set to be replaced after Kylian Mbappé cremated the Tasmanian’s joie de vivre. “It’s a great lesson for the kid, he’ll move on from it,” deadpanned Arnold afterwards.
There’s bags of time before kick-off so feel free to send me an email, or, if you haven’t yet abandoned the platform as it prepares to let slip the trolls of war, tweet me @JPHowcroft.