The Socceroos World Cup campaign hinges on tonight’s meeting with Tunisia, a team and country many within Australia consider a great unknown from a football and cultural standpoint – save for the roughly 500 Tunisian expats living down under, of which Perth Glory winger Salim Khalifi is now proudly one.

Similarly to the Socceroos, the Eagles of Carthage scraped through the final stages of World Cup qualification under a local manager. Jalil Kadri’s side didn’t inspire a great deal of confidence in their homeland as they overcame Mali at the final hurdle in March, but defied expectation in their opener against Denmark on Tuesday to earn a point.

Khalifi made two national team appearances under former manager Mondher Kabaier in 2019, but an injury-hit season with FC Zürich prior to his move to the Glory derailed any chance of involvement in Qatar. Nevertheless he remains proud of his national side, and fully expected their strong showing.

‘It didn’t surprise me because I know the quality of this team. I was speaking with a few players from Perth Glory and they were saying Tunisia will lose… I told them, ‘you will see!’, Khelifi told Box2Box from Perth, where he moved on a one-year contract in September.

‘They played a really good game, the Tunisian mentality is to give everything on the pitch. You have to run, to fight, and this is what we saw.

‘There are a lot of good players in the team who play in the Bundesliga, the French first division, players with good qualities. I think the difference is the Tunisian mentality, they give it everything on the pitch.’

Born in Switzerland to Tunisian parents, Khelifi played almost 50 underage matches within the Swiss national setup before then-Tunisian manager Mondher Kabaier convinced him to represent the country of his heritage, where he’d holidayed annually as a child and feels a ‘strong family connection.’

Kabaier was moved on after their quarter-final exit from the Africa Cup of Nations in January and Khelifi admitted he knows little of Kadri, but was enthused by what he saw against the Danes.

‘I don’t know him well, I had some contact with the staff but didn’t have contact with him personally. He’s brought in new players, but I don’t think there is a lot of difference between the [style] of the old coach and this one. What I see now is he’s doing a very good job, so I hope it continues like this.’

The Tunisian diaspora in Australia may be small, but in the context of this World Cup is strong where it counts. It’s estimated 40,000 Tunisian migrants live in Doha, and in conjunction with travelling fans will likely monster the Aussie support in Al Wakrah.

While Australia may be willing the Socceroos win just their third World Cup match and ultimately progress to the knockout stage, it should be remembered the opposition are just as desperate. From five previous tournaments Tunisia have also won just two games, and have never reached the last 16.

‘For the people of Tunisia, it’s like you have to qualify for the World Cup. This is a very important thing for the fans, this is a very big thing. You can show yourself, show your country can play football and achieve something worldly.’