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A bittersweet World Cup farewell for Tunisia after securing first finals victory in 40 years Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

A bittersweet World Cup farewell for Tunisia after securing first finals victory in 40 years

Tunisia's midfielder Ghailene Chaalali during the match between Panama and Tunisia [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 June, 2018

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Blog: The Tunisians beat Panama 2-1 on the final day of the group stage action, giving them their second World Cup match win since 1978.
After the World Cup exit of all Middle Eastern teams, Tunisia went to the city of Saransk to play the group stage's last match against Panama.

The Tunisians have lost any chance for qualification, but this game was still vital as Tunisia had not won a game at the tournament since beating Mexico in Argentina in 1978, the first win by an African country at the World Cup finals.

Coach Nabil Maaloul faced a difficult situation, having both his first and second goalies out and injured. Veteran goalkeeper Ayman Mathlouthi was then called for the mission, while published photos from the last training showed the coach himself playing as a keeper to complete the side.

Read the full World Cup LIVEBLOG: Tunisia v Panama here

The Carthage Eagles tried to score fast right into the game but were given very limited chances as Panama had different plans.

Once out of the Tunisian pressure, Panama attacked.

Jose Luis Rodriguez got a pass from Roman Torres, the heaviest player in the tournament (98kg) and struck the ball into the back of the net, after a it got deflected by the Tunisian defence.

The Panamanians went into a frenzy of emotions and celebrations on the pitch and in the stands.

The Tunisians were shocked and immediately tried to answer with a goal, but the goal never came. Khazri's shot was stopped, Fakhereddine Ben Youssef was blocked and the first half ended with an slight advantage for Panama.

Panama's midfielder Jose Luis Rodriguez (R) celebrates with teammate Panama's midfielder Ricardo Avila after scoring [Getty]

Pressure and attack

The second half opened with a massive Tunisian pressure. Ben Youssef, who missed twice in the first half, managed to finish a great counter attack with a goal after a nice assist by Khazri, who found him free at the box. 1-1. 

Tunisia's forward Fakhreddine Ben Youssef scores against Panama's goalkeeper Jaime Penedo [Getty]
Tunisia's forward Wahbi Khazri (C) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal [Getty]

Goalkeeper Mathlouthi was sharp at goal and made a great save from the Tunisians, but got hurt and caused moments of worrisome in the bench. Two minutes after Tunisia completed its takeover of the match, a combined attack founded Khazri all alone in the small box, and in front of an empty goal he made it 2-1 for the Tunisians.

The second MENA victory in the tournament started to look like a reality. The Tunisian fans celebrated in a complete ecstasy.

The second MENA victory in the tournament started to look like a reality

Panama began to press and also scored a goal, but it was disallowed due to a foul. The central Americans kept trying, but ended their chances unlucky every time.

In the 94th minute Panama won a free kick in a lucrative location, 25 metres from the goal. Barcenas took a curly shot, but Mathlouthi was right on the spot to catch it, perpetuating the promise that after 40 long years, Tunisia will celebrate a World Cup victory.

Read also: Russia 2018: It was fun while it lasted

The most Middle Eastern World Cup is now officially over, as Tunisia, the last team, make its way back home with a broken, but proud smile of victory in the last match of the group stage.

True support: Tunisian fans gathered for a public viewing event to watch the match between Panama and Tunisia in Tunis [Getty]

Uri Levy
 runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.

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