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Tunisia’s victory over France ought to be tarnished by World Cup regret

03:11 GMT+3 01/12/2022
Hannibal Mejbri, Ellyes Skhiri, Wajdi Kechrida of Tunisia
One of the Carthage Eagles’ greatest victories ever will surely be tinged by immense regret at an opportunity missed

This is proving to be a World Cup of immense opportunity to African teams, and—surely—of immense opportunity lost for Tunisia.

It’s perhaps unfair to focus on the negatives after the Carthage Eagles secured one of the most famous victories in their history, but look at the faces of Wahbi Khazri and Hannibal Mejbri at full-time, and you wouldn’t have thought they’d just beaten the world champions.

Australia’s unlikely victory over Denmark in the group’s other fixture meant that while Tunisia had registered a remarkable triumph, it would be the Socceroos, and not the Carthage Eagles, who would advance to the knockout stages.

Perhaps Tunisia’s greatest World Cup moment, but ultimately, it’s characterised by heartbreak.

Of course, Wednesday’s victory will be remembered for years to come, but this World Cup was a golden opportunity for Tunisia to progress to the knockouts.

For a start, they’ve been the best supported team in Qatar, with a combination of travelling support, a 30,000-strong diaspora in the host country, and local supporters converted to the Carthage Eagles, have made their matches feel like home games.

Tunisia have responded well to this atmosphere, buoyed by the partisan support, and they capitalised on the presence of a ‘12th man’ in both matches against Denmark and France, helping them get an edge over their European opponents.

They also started strongly, neutralising the Danish side who will be hard-pressed to be the biggest disappointment of the tournament, and securing a 0-0 draw against the team ranked 10th in the world.

Anything felt possible after that match, and indeed, Tunisia achieved a remarkable haul of four points against two European sides ranked inside Fifa’s top 10.

Tunisia also exit having conceded just one goal in their three matches—only Morocco and Brazil have conceded fewer—and their defence which was lauded before the tournament has certainly come up trumps in Qatar.

However, they were let down by an attacking unit that simply failed to put away the chances created against the Danes and the Australia, with Jalel Kadri’s decision to use Wahbi Khazri sparingly dimming a offensive line that already seemed a little light when the tournament began.

They will regret being breached by Mitchell Duke’s header in that second game, and regret not being able to punish an Australian backline that had been devastated by France in their opener.

The most gutting thing, surely, however, must be that ultimately, against Australia, they were defeated by a side who were more perseverant than them, who were more determined, more dogged, more tenacious even, and who out-battled Tunisia rather than out-played them.

At the critical moment, Tunisia were defeated by a side ranked lower than them in the world who, ultimately, beat the Carthage Eagles at their own game.

When the euphoria of the France win fades, it’s a reality that will surely rankle for Tunisia fans.