Tunisia national team has cheeky tactic for breaking Ramadan fast mid-game

Henry Bushnell
Tunisia players go to the sideline for mid-game nourishment during an injury delay against Portugal. (Getty)
Tunisia players go to the sideline for mid-game nourishment during an injury delay against Portugal. (Getty)

There will be six predominantly Muslim nations at the 2018 World Cup, and players from all of them face a dilemma: Will they observe Ramadan, and fast from dawn to sunset, while preparing for the biggest tournament of their lives?

Tunisian players have apparently decided they will. But they have also devised a clever plan for refueling during games once the sun sets and time comes to break the fast.

In each of their two World Cup warmup friendlies this past week, goalkeeper Mouez Hassen has gone down early in the second half with an “injury.” In the 49th minute of a game against Turkey on Saturday, he lay flat on his back, almost a mirror image of the 58th minute of Monday’s match against Portugal.

And while he lay there – then while he received attention from Tunisia’s medical staff – the other 10 players on the field rushed over to the sideline to drink water and eat dates – their first food intake in hours.

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Oh, and it gets even better: Before Iftar – the name for the fast-breaking meal – Tunisia has scored just one goal in the two games. Post-Iftar, it has scored three. Coincidence? Probably. But you never know.

Tunisia won’t have to carry the ploy into the World Cup. Ramadan will end before its first game – June 18 against England.

But fasting during the buildup to a major tournament comes with its own risks. A document obtained by Yahoo Sports in May outlining upcoming FIFA-commissioned research states: “By the end of Ramadan, there is an increased risk of nutritional and energy deficiency in active athletes. The post-Ramadan effects have been given little attention and exactly how long the effects, if any, will last remains unclear.”

[Feature: World Cup-bound Muslim players face dilemma: faith or football?]

Various medical studies recommend adjusting training schedules and other routines to accommodate players who are fasting.

So, uh, perhaps we should consider Hassen’s “injuries” merely a form of adjustment or accommodation.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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