28 June 2018

Africa: Tunisia Saves Face

Photo: FIFA
Tunisia national team.
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The Carthage Eagles went in to this game knowing there is nothing to play for but pride. That late goal against England and a 5-2 thrashing against Belgium in their second game meant the Tunisians will yet again exit in the first round of the tournament. They however hoped the lessons learnt in the tournament will be an asset in the future.

Panama, who have never played an African side before, we're also hoping to end their first-ever World Cup campaign on a high note. Africans having felt hard done by in the earlier match of the day where Japan went through to the next round on the basis of fairplay also know they will have to choose a non-African side to adopt as all teams from the continent have been knocked out in the first round.

The north Africans made five changes from the team that lost against Belgium and opted for a 4-3-3 formation. Dressed in their traditional white the Tunisian knew they will have to go at the hugely inexperienced Panama side who are below them on the table as a result of goal difference. But the Panamanians could count on the 12th man as they had more supporters than the Tunisian and even the neutrals in the stands seemed to be supporting the debutants.

Tunisia signaled their intentions at the sixth minute but the touch from a well-taken cross fell kindly for the goalkeeper. A couple of wild shots from range from both sides followed by none posing any real danger. Both keepers were spectators in the first quarter of the game but a header from Tunisia at the nineteenth minute had to call Panama keeper Penedo into action.

Panama were playing a good passing game for the most part of the first half but could not make good use of the ball in the final third. They touched the ball only twice i thirty minutes in the box of the Tunisians. The Carthage Eagles countered with long balls towards channels which seemed to hardly be working for them.

Panama finally took the lead after a deflected shot from Roderigues, the youngest player in the team, beat the Tunisian keeper Mathlouti. The goal was however ruled an own goal by the referee.

Tunisia came close to an equalizer minutes later but Ben Youseff saw his header drift wide. They however kept knocking, giving the feeling it's only a matter of time before they get an equalizer. They came close in the first minute of stoppage time only to see the ball scrambled away after a perfect save from the keeper. The first half ended with the ninth own goal of the tournament making the difference between the two sides.

A swift passing game earned Tunisia an early second half equalizer from Ben Youseff barely a minute into the second half and came closer to taking the lead seconds later when Ben Youseff's shot got sent out for a corner. But the Tunisian attack was relentless, stretching the Panama defense. There was a Tunisian scare at the sixty fourth ninute after the only fit keeper out of the three in the tournament got injured after a goalmouth tussle but they replied minutes later when Tunisia took the lead after some neat passing at the end. A final touch by Wabbi Kassri put the Eagles 2-1 up. A seventy-second minute goal gave Tunisia a scare but it was denied because of an infringement. One would have thought Tunisia would be on smooth sailing after they took the lead but Panama produced a fightback and came close to an equalizer on numerous occasions. Panama exhausted every muscle to get a point but the Tunisian defense managed to keep them at bay.

The game ended with a deserved Tunisia win though one must admit the debutants Panama gave it their all. The Carthage Eagles will be heading home with pride with three points in the bag. They are the only team which used all players taken to the tournament inthe first round, meaning as the top-ranked African team, they might be a force to reckon with in four years' time.

But for now Africans need to adopt a team as the continent is out of World Cup 2018.

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