Wahbi Khazri’s goal against France was not enough to propel Tunisia to the knockout stage of the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday.
Tunisia romped to a famous but bittersweet victory, although a 1-0 win for Australia against Denmark meant they finished third in the group, thus missing out on qualification for the Round of 16.
There were early concerns for Tunisia in the fourth minute when Khazri looked to have picked up an injury after a tussle with Eduardo Camavinga. To the relief of the former African champions, he continued with the match.
Tunisia were on the front foot attacking and came close to breaking the deadlock in the fifth minute. However, Raphael Varane did well to read Ali Maaloul’s delivery, and the French defender produced a great clearance to deny Tunisia a big goal-scoring chance.
The Carthage Eagles thought they got off to a perfect start when they found the back of the net in the eighth minute. Khazri delivered a cross that was slotted into the back of the net by Nader Ghandri, but the linesman’s raised flag indicated the goal will not stand for offside.
Khazri’s pleas for a penalty were dismissed in the 13th minute. After the Tunisian failed to find a way past Ibrahima Konate, he went down and turned towards the referee, pleading for a spot kick that was denied.
France struggled and launched a rare attack in the 25th minute. Youssouf Fofana did well to pick out Kingsley Coman, but the latter’s poor touch saw the ball fly wide.
Steve Mandanda was alert enough to thwart Khazri’s shot in the 35th minute. A poor clearance saw the ball land on the Tunisian path but his swerving strike was dealt with by the French number two goalkeeper.
The Africans came close again to scoring the opener in the 42nd minute. Khazri latched onto a ball played through the lines, went to the byline and crossed, but there was no Tunisian to connect to the well-placed delivery at the far post.
As the second half began, Khazri had another penalty appeal denied after a heavy challenge from Aurelien Tchouameni in the 48th minute. Although the Tchouameni tackle was heavy, a penalty was not awarded as the Real Madrid star got the ball during the tussle.
Finally, Tunisia registered the opener in the 58th minute through Khazri after some impressive work. The forward got the ball after France lost possession, and made a long run toward the goal before he rolled the ball into the bottom corner past a stretched Mandanda.
Later on, Aymen Dahmen pulled off a magnificent save in the 89th minute to deny Kylian Mbappe. The PSG forward created some space on the left and unleashed a shot from a tight angle, but the Tunisian goalkeeper parried it away.
: France were slow to react to the constant attack from the Carthage Eagles.
Khazri looked lively and shone in the match, and at one point, he nutmegged Camavinga as France struggled to contain the North Africans.
Along the right flank, the 31-year-old was a constant thorn in the flesh of Les Bleus, who looked quite disjointed, especially in the first half.
After going behind, Didier Deschamps made changes and brought on William Saliba, Kylian Mbappe, and Adrien Rabiot for Raphael Varane, Coman, and Jordan Veretout. Despite the substitutions, the champions continued to look unstable as Tunisia kept pressing them.
However, the 2018 winners composed themselves as Tunisia backpedalled in the last 10 minutes.
The Uefa nation thought they had equalized, but a VAR decision cancelled out Antoine Griezmann’s goal deep inside stoppage time.
Tunisia’s Khazri became the first African player in World Cup history to score in three consecutive starts – he netted against both Belgium and Panama in 2018, before scoring against France in his only start of the 2022 edition.
He has been directly involved in each of Tunisia’s last five goals at the World Cup, scoring three and assisting two. He is both Tunisia’s top scorer (3) and assister (2) in their World Cup history.