Hannibal Mejbri in the 2021 Arab Cup final: a sign of things to come

Hannibal Mejbri has had a great tournament, starting every game for Tunisia and playing a total of 494 minutes in the competition. At just 18 years old, he has been the standout young player in a side that had scored nine goals during the 2021 Arab Cup.

This tournament has taught him a lot about professional football, the pressures of needing to perform to a constant high level and to be available when you’re needed most.

But how did he play in the final?

Playing at Manchester United is about not just playing brilliant football all the time, but playing brilliant football under immense and sometimes suffocating pressure; and what defines pressure more than an international cup final?

The first half

Occupying space in the centre on the left of the midfield, Hannibal started brightly. He was pressing the back line of Algeria with a raw and eager attitude that you see in many young stars.

In the 11th minute, a neat peice of skill led to Hannibal being brought down in the area, however no foul was given. Just moments later he made a dancing run in to the box, but ended up getting tangled up with the Algerian defence and gave away a foul.

Tunisia in general had a dominant opening 20 minutes, winning a number of corners and hitting the crossbar from a header via a deep-crossed free kick.

In the 21st minute, it was Algeria’s Tayeb Meziani who had a brilliant tap-in chance to open the scoring, however the No.7 somehow managed to place his shot wide from six yards out. Although the scoreline remained level, it was clear that this chance had given Algeria a lot of confidence.

Hannibal continued to play well, though. He played several nice lofted balls from the middle of the pitch towards Tunisia’s flying right-back, finding him more often than not. He kept his head up and was adamant to drive the ball forwards when possible, whether that be by playing line-breaking passes or using his quick feet to dance his way through the Algerian midfield.

Watching Hannibal, it is clear to see he has a footballing intelligence and awareness beyond his years. Off the ball he was constantly scanning and keeping an eye on where everybody was (both his teammates and opposition), and shifted the play accordingly whenever he had the chance.

Hannibal is graceful on the ball, but he’s far from a delicate player. Throughout the first half he was aggressive with his tackling, his afformentioned pressing, and was not afraid to give some lip to the referee, either.

On the 32nd minute, Algeria had another brilliant chance to score. Excellent work from Youcef Belaïli led to Yacine Brahimi having the ball almost on the goal-line, however he somehow could not see the ball across to grab the final’s opening goal.

Hannibal also got himself involved in a classic footballing brawl. He had his throat grabbed during an argument around the 37th minute (check the right hand side of the photo below!). Didn’t seem to phase him in the slightest though.

The first half ended with neither team wuite able to get theselves on the scoresheet, despite having brilliant chances throughout the game. It was all set up for a tense final half of the tournament.

The second half

Tunisia started well in the first half, so it only made sense that Algeria dominated the opening sequences of the second. An early corner that lead to a chance that flashed over the bar was shortly followed by a VAR check for a handball minutes later, but much to the delight of the Tunisian fans, the check did not result in anything of significance.

Hannibal continued to push forwards with his progessive passes aimed at Tunisia’s right-back, and had no signs of slowing down.

The second half gave Hannibal an oppotunity to show the defensive side to his game, too. In the 66th minute he was presented with an awkward ball in his own area, and he showed ideal composure and calmness to control the ball, bring it down and clear it straight up the field with no real problems.

Throughout the entire game, Hannibal was always looking to provide himself as an outlet for his teammates. He was active in trying to find space, but also in his attempts to recycle the ball as quickly has he could.

Tunisia had a second penalty should around the 80th minute mark, but the original run was flagged for offside and play continued.

For Hannibal, the game came to an end in the 88th minute when he was substituted for Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane after nothing short of an incredible performance.

After 90 minutes, the game was still at a 0-0 stalemate and far from over. As soon as the referee blew for the end fo the second half, Hannibal was on to the field to help his teammates stretch out their legs and prepare for extra time.

Unfortunately for Tunisia, it was Algeria who struck first in extra time, with a brilliant goal struck from distanece by substitute Amir Sayoud to send them into the lead. Despite their best efforts, Tunisia could not conjure up a reply. Algeria doubled their lead deep in to added time, with Brahimi sealing victory, and the trophy, in a deserved manner for Algeria.

Limitless potential

It is no secret that Hannibal Mejbri is a class talent; there’s a reason Manchester United paid AS Monaco £9m for his services at just 16 years of age.

His display in this final is clear evidence that so far, United’s fee for the young baller is paying off well. He poesses traits that will be well appreciated by Ralf Rangnick, and it won’t be long until he gets his chance.

This season is hopefully the season where we start to see him more often in a United shirt playing for the first team, as although he is only 18 years of age, it is more than obvious that he had the grit, dalent and desire to play in the biggest competitions and biggest stages on the footballing planet.

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