Tunisia, the reference of African handball, launches Friday against Poland its 14th consecutive men's World Championship and wants to surprise the world, as in 2005 when it hosted the world championships.
"Tunisia is on the throne of Africa" thanks to "years of work", proudly explains the coach of the goalkeepers of the Tunisian selection, Riadh Sanaa.
For one who has participated in eleven World Cups as a player and then coach, Tunisian handball has developed thanks to "the multiplication of sports facilities and the encouraging policy of the State", to the point of making it the second most popular sport in this Maghreb country after soccer.
Since its creation at independence in 1956, the Tunisian federation has become the most successful in Africa, with ten continental titles, the latest in 2018.
Vice-champions of Africa 2020, defeated by Egypt, one of its two historical rivals with Algeria, the "Eagles of Carthage" take full advantage of the training strategy implemented in the 1990s.
The Tunisian State then created training centers within clubs in the coastal cities of the north-eastern part of the country. Obliged to devote 20% of their budget to them, these clubs have become "nurseries for young people," said sports journalist Hatem ben Emna.
- 4th at home in 2005 -
Coming from these bastions of the hand, such as Moknine, Beni Khiar, Mahdia or Menzil-Temim, some of them were able to break through and be recruited by big European clubs.
Thus, Wissam Hammam, revealed during the 2005 World Cup organized at home and finished in 4th place, Tunisia's best result in a global meeting, has made most of his career in Montpellier where he collected the titles of French champion and other French trophies.
For his part, Wael Jalouz went through the German club of Kiel (2013-14) and the Catalan giant FC Barcelona (2014-18) to become a source of inspiration for the hopefuls attending the many sports complexes of the northeast coast.
In these regions, "the culture of handball is rooted," emphasizes Sami Saïdi, coach of the national team since August 2020, who succeeded Spain's Toni Gerona and a series of foreign coaches, including France's Alain Portes.
Team goalkeeper Marwan Maggaiez thus remembers starting out playing in the streets in the working-class neighborhoods of Beni Khiar, where he grew up.
- "Matches at midnight" -
With some of his future teammates, "we used to play games at midnight and even at one o'clock in the morning," recalls the 37-year-old goalkeeper. "So when we joined El Baath Sportif de Béni Khiar, we were ready".
His idol at the time became his coach.
"When I was young, I followed the brilliant play of the goalkeeper of Tunisia for the 1994 African Cup of Nations, Riadh Sanaa," he explains, proudly pointing to the former champion a few steps away from him, in the middle of training in a room in Hammamet (northeast).
"There is a communication and a close continuity between generations, the coaching of players goes through that, that's why we talk about great tradition of handball in our country," said the goalkeeper.
Regularly ranked between 10th and 20th place in the world, Tunisia has participated in the last two Olympics (8th in 2012, 12th in 2006), but has never so far climbed on the podium of a World Cup, failing in 2005 by one goal (26-25) against France for the bronze medal in "its" World Cup.
But beyond the final result, Sami Saïdi calls for taking advantage of this World Cup organized in neighboring Egypt to "attract more children and make them love this sport", in particular through "tournaments for children, to discover young talents".