Tunisia remain also-rans after early World Cup exit, but can leave with their heads held high

Despite a scintillating victory over defending world champions France, Tunisia failed in its quest to make it out of the World Cup group stages for the first time in its history.
Tunisia had arguably one of their finest footballing nights on Wednesday, but it was not enough to save them from yet another early exit at the World Cup, and they remain one of the tournament’s also-rans.
The North Africans beat champions France 1-0 in their last Group D match in Al Rayyan but the celebrations were muted by the fact it was not enough for them to advance to the last 16.
It meant they kept up their unwanted record of not getting out of the group stage, now extended to a sixth World Cup finals appearance. But they won for a third time in 18 games, registering a rare victory that was celebrated vociferously by their supporters.
A win over the former colonial power in a competitive international game ranks with their triumph in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) and their 1978 World Cup win over Mexico, when they became the first African country to record a victory at the tournament.
Plus, Tunisia’s four points and third place in the 2022 standings far exceeded expectations, especially after they were drawn in a tough group which included Denmark and France.
“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,” Tunisia coach Jalel Kadri told journalists after the match.
“Unfortunately, we exited the tournament, but we also left the game with a lot of honour and pride.”
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Holding the Danes to a goalless draw in their opening game in Qatar and finishing ahead of the 1992 Euro champions in the standings will somewhat console the Tunisians.
When they look back, they will need to admit the passionate support of the large Tunisian migrant community in Qatar proved inspirational but also contributed to their undoing.
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The red-clad army of supporters, who dominated the terraces in their three group matches, created a fever-pitched atmosphere in their opening game against Denmark, lifting the Tunisian players and helping them to play out of their skins.
Rarely has a north African side competed in a match at such a high tempo. But with many players ...