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Last Updated: Monday, 5 June 2006, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
Tunisian fans ignore football ban
Sylvia Smith
BBC News, Tunisia

Tunisian football fans
These fans went to the airport to see the team off
"Phenomenal" is how Tunisian football fan Tarek Cherglaoui describes the enthusiasm that his national team manages to generate at home.

With the side now in training in Switzerland for the 2006 World Cup, he is confident that the team will live up to the adulation that they attract.

"The first time that an Arab and African team achieved the honour of qualifying for the World Cup was in 1978 - it was a historic moment for us Tunisians," he recalls.

"All Tunisians adore football, they revere the team," he says.

As one of the great uniting forces in Tunisia, football is heavily supported by the government.

But such is the fear of any unofficial organised group demonstrating en masse that commercialisation of the national team is outlawed.

There is no-one here selling paraphernalia and no real gathering places for fans.

Tickets snapped up

Despite the clampdown on public shows of support before the tournament, there is a huge groundswell of enthusiasm.

You must realise that more than 10m hearts are behind the team
Mahmoud Hammami, football official
Tunisian Football Federation treasurer Mahmoud Hammami was amazed by the way ticket for the matches in Germany were snapped up.

"We bought up the entire quota allocated to us by Fifa. Each association that is participating in the World Cup in Germany gets the chance of having 8% of the seating capacity of the stadium," he says.

"When we put them up to the general public, they sold out in their entirety."

The cost of tickets and the two-hour flight to Germany are beyond the reach of many Tunisians.

But Mr Hammami points out that national feelings are also running high among the many Tunisians who live and work in Europe:

"There are about 700,000 Tunisians living in Europe and approximately 70,000 actually in Germany itself where the World Cup will be held," he says.

"But you must realise that more than 10m hearts are behind the team. I myself will be there in Germany. I see it as my duty."

Pride

A good number of those millions of hearts are already full of pride that their team has qualified.

Football fan Zeroua Ali went to the airport to see the team off to their training ground in Switzerland.

Tunisian captain Hatem Trabelsi
Hatem Trabelsi and his team just want to make it past the first round
"As a Tunisian I really hope and wish that the Tunisian team will get as far as the second round," he says.

"It's the dream of everyone here in Tunisia to get over the hurdle of the first round. We are all keeping out fingers crossed and of course we have confidence in our team."

Young fans are equally devoted, like Khali Laromne who has supported the Tunisian team since he was 10 years old.

"I love watching the players when they are on the field. I have met a lot of them and I am very excited about the World Cup," he says.

Khali is not going to Germany, "but I will be next to the television set the whole time," he says.

But what does all this support and adulation mean to the players?

I spoke to Rhadi Jaidi, Hamed Namouchi and Mehdi Nafti at Tunis airport - on their way to Switzerland.

All three play in English or Scottish teams, so they are used to big salaries and lots of attention. But it was quite touching to hear just how much support from fans back home means.

And even though they are pulling in lots of money and are used to cheering crowds, they have a surprisingly modest aim - to make it beyond the first round.

"The season really begins now for me," Mehdi Nafti says.

"I am feeling well. I am confident that we will play well in Germany as a team."




SEE ALSO
Tunisia team guide
22 May 06 |  Tunisia
Country profile: Tunisia
06 May 06 |  Country profiles

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