EA strange mix of conflicting emotions swept through Education City Stadium on the outskirts of Doha when the final whistle blew and a minor sensation ensued. Tunisia had indeed won 1-0 (0-0) against world champions France, and people in the stands, mostly filled with supporters of the outsider, cheered, as did some of the players on the pitch. Others, however, fell to the ground, because Tunisia were eliminated despite this success against the giants from Europe, who, however, had played anything but gigantic.
“It’s a historic victory,” said coach Jalel Kadri and goalscorer Wahbi Khazri said: “I’m very happy, we played very well. But there is also disappointment because we didn’t qualify for the next round.”
Had Australia drawn at the same time against the Danes, who had been very disappointing at the tournament overall, that win would indeed have been enough for the North Africans to advance to the knockout stages of the tournament, but the other two nations in the group did not do them the favour. And in terms of fair competition, that was perhaps a good thing. Because the French had given Tunisia a lot of support.
Almost all the top stars of the world champions were on the bench, only Raphaël Varane and Aurélien Tchouaméni were left from the starting XI, with which France advanced early to the round of 16 last Saturday, he said he wanted to rest his most important players “after two intensive games”. France coach Didier Deschamps and explained, referring to the long stoppage times: “We’re not talking about 90-minute games here, we’re talking about games that last 105 minutes.”
However, there was a hint of distortion of competition about this match, because Tunisia got to play a completely different French team than the Danes and Australia had in previous games. “They weren’t used to playing together,” admitted Deschamps. “We were too reserved, there were technical errors, but the Tunisians were also very strong.”
That may make sense from Deschamps’ point of view given that the players have traveled to Qatar with their clubs after a busy few weeks and could probably use a rest. At the same time, however, this approach also harbors a risk. There is this famous example of the Dutch from Euro 2008, who mesmerized the crowd for two games before coach Marco van Basten, also with nine substitutions in the third group game and arguments similar to those of Deschamps, choked off his team’s previously created flow, for which he later hardened was criticized. However, Deschamp is also hoping for a development boost from his radical measure. “It should be a lesson for these players, we wanted to give them playing time. We also wanted to prevent anyone from getting injured or getting a yellow card.”
So France played with a B-Elf, for example Randal Kolo Muani from Eintracht Frankfurt was part of the team that was on the pitch at kick-off for the first time in an international match. In addition to many other people who can hardly hope for further starting eleven nominations. That contributed a lot to the fact that the Tunisians were not only more passionate, but also almost equal in terms of football.
And so the goal of the day after just under an hour did not come as a complete surprise. Khazri had too much space 25 meters in front of goal, was able to run into the penalty area with the ball almost undisturbed and scored to make it 1-0. Now the Tunisians were actually second in the table for a few sweet minutes, until shortly afterwards in the parallel game Australia scored a goal against Denmark, which made it impossible for the Tunisians to reach the round of 16.
In the end, Deschamps gradually switched on his top players, Mbappé, Rabiot, and a little later Griezmann and Dembéle, but the Équipe Tricolore never really got going. Griezmann scored deep in injury time (90+8), but the goal was canceled due to an offside position, leaving the Tunisians with at least the consolation of victory after losing the World Cup.
During the game, a streaker gained access to the field and fooled the security forces. The man walked onto the pitch with a Palestinian flag in al-Rajjan on Wednesday and hit one more flack before security forces roughly removed him. The Tunisian fans then loudly shouted “Palestine, Palestine”.
Only two days ago, during the game between Portugal and Uruguay, a streaker entered the field. The man who stormed the pitch in the second half of the group game in Doha had a rainbow flag in his hand. His Superman T-shirt read “Save Ukraine” on the front and “Respect for Iranian Woman” on the back.