Tunisians enjoy historic but bittersweet win over France, leave with heads held high

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Tunisians enjoy historic but bittersweet win over France, leave with heads held high
Tunisia's victory was celebrated by Arab fans
Tunisia's victory was celebrated by Arab fans
Reuters
Tunisia exited the World Cup on Wednesday with their heads held high and had made their supporters happy, coach Jalel Kadri said after a shock 1-0 win over holders France that still proved not enough for a place in the next round.

Tunisia needed the victory, plus a stalemate in the other Group D clash between Australia and Denmark, to secure a top two finish but were thwarted by the Socceroos’ 1-0 win over the Danes that put Australia into second place instead.

"It’s a historic win for us over the defending champions, but we wanted to qualify for the next round; this was our main aim," he told the post-match news conference.

"Unfortunately, we exited the tournament, but we also left the game with a lot of honour and pride."

Tunisia finished third with a four-point haul and have now failed in six World Cups to get past the first round.

"It wasn’t easy to collect these four points, only one of the games we played was not on the expected level and that was when we played versus Australia."

Tunisia started their campaign with a 0-0 draw against more fancied Denmark but then looked tired as they lost 1-0 to Australia.

"I think we achieved the most difficult of our tasks, but we could have played better against Australia.

"But we have no regrets. We provided a high level of performance in the three matches. We had been drawn in a group with very strong teams and we are honoured with the results we have achieved.

"We suffered from great pressure today but our fans were happy with us and thank God we were able to bring them happiness. We fought until the last breath," he said of the bruising encounter where skipper Wahbi Khazri got the match winner in the 58th minute.

Kadri, who was appointed after Tunisia’s poor performance at the Africa Cup of Nations finals in January, said his own future would be determined by the Tunisian Football Federation.

"The contract I have with Tunisia is a contract based on achieving objectives. The objective was not fulfilled but nevertheless we still have to analyse and the final decision will be taken by the federation to decide whether I have achieved my targets or not," he

BITTERSWEET

Car horns sounded in Tunis after the final whistle in Tunisia's 1-0 win as fans savoured the moment even though their side did not make it through to the last 16.

The victory marked another proud World Cup moment for Arab fans still celebrating Saudi Arabia's historic win over Argentina and Morocco's defeat of Belgium - victories applauded across the Arab region despite its deep political divisions.

"The victory over France was wonderful and had a special taste...Arab football regained its dignity from the former colonialists countries," said Narredine ben Salem, sitting in the Tunis cafe where he watched the match.

As the game ended, dozens of people ran into the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue, often the site of political protests, waving flags and cheering.

In the official fan zone in Tunis, about 2,000 fans had been cheering through the game, many in Tunisian national soccer shirts or with their faces painted.

EERILY QUIET

When France appeared to have equalised with seconds remaining they fell eerily quiet, only to erupt into a huge cheer and dancing when the goal was disallowed for offside.

"It was a beautiful victory and a convincing performance, but in the end it was very harsh to be knocked out...I am very sad...We hope that Saudi Arabia will make us happy," Ben Salem said, reflecting hopes that Saudi Arabia would make to the next round.

In Qatar, Saudi fans awaiting their country's decisive match against Mexico later on Wednesday celebrated Tunisia's win, another show of the pan-Arab unity that has been a feature of the tournament, said Abeer Awaisha, a Tunisian fan in Qatar.

"We didn’t expect (Tunisia to defeat France) because France is a strong team but thank God we were better and we played very well and thank God for winning," Awaisha said.

Many Tunisians planned to watch Saudi Arabia's decisive match against Mexico later on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia are seeking to make it into the last 16 for the first time since their debut at the tournament in 1994.

Morocco, in second place in their group but level on four points with top team Croatia, play their final group game against Canada on Thursday.

If both Saudi Arabia and Morocco get through, it would be the first time two Arab sides have made it out of the group stage.

Host nation Qatar have been knocked out.

Speaking ahead of the Tunisian match, Saudi fan Abdullah Al Rasaei said: "This is a World Cup for all Arabs, not just Qatar, and as you can see there is a big Arab celebration and hopefully it will be crowned with an Arab success."

While he was expecting a strong performance from Morocco, he said Saudi Arabia "honestly surprised us in the match with Argentina, it raised the bar high".

Morocco supporter Khalim Farouki (25) in Doha, said: "There is a big solidarity between us, Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We support each other."

Some Arab leaders attending the World Cup have echoed the sense of pan-Arab solidarity during matches.

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - who have mended ties after years of animosity - wrapped scarves and flags of each other's country around them as they watched their matches.