Soccer-Tunisia remain also rans but can leave with their heads held high

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group D - Tunisia v France - Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar - November 30, 2022 Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri celebrates scoring their first goal REUTERS/Carl Recine

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (Reuters) - 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 ranks up with their triumph in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations 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.

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 also 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.

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 coming from clubs where that sort of intensity is uncommon, it was no surprise that they looked fatigued and flat for their next game against Australia – the one they had targeted for the points.

In losing 1-0 to the Socceroos, they left themselves a near impossible task against France but came so close.

Had Wednesday's other Group D game between Australia and Denmark ended in a draw, Tunisia would have advanced to the knockout stages for the first time, allowing them to write a different kind of history which they would have been much more happier with.

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Doha; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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