Tunisia set their sights on African Cup of Nations after landmark World Cup win

Wahbi Khazri is congratulated after scoring the winning goal against Panama. (AFP)
Updated 30 June 2018
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Tunisia set their sights on African Cup of Nations after landmark World Cup win

  • Win over Panama should provide a springboard
  • 'The World Cup will help us to be better in Africa'

At the end, Tunisia were all smiles. The omnipresent Wahbi Khazri hugged his colleagues and congratulated the Panama players for their maiden World Cup campaign.
The Tunisians greeted their fans and midfielder anchor Ellyes Skhiri walked over to another stand to applaud the Tunisia faithful. The Carthage Eagles were celebrating a first World Cup win since defeating Mexico at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. They finished third behind group winners Belgium and England in Group G, taking solace from a second-half fightback against Panama to win 2-1.
“This is a historic victory for the Tunisian team,” said Fakhreddine Ben Youssef who scored against Panama. “We wanted to snatch a win. I wanted to score and I did. Again, this is a great day for Tunisia.
“As for the assessment of our performance, there are fans and witnesses. We will be able to assess it properly and we will be able to bridge all the gaps later on. This was our first opportunity to play in the World Cup in a long time, so perhaps we did not achieve the results that we wanted.”
In their opener the North Africans had suffered heartbreak against England, succumbing to a last-gasp header from Tottenham striker Harry Kane. Tunisia subsequently abandoned their cautious approach against Belgium, but that backfired in an even heavier defeat, 5-2. The Carthage Eagles were too open and the heavily fancied Belgians ran riot.
“You also have to say the way it is: The two big nations were on top,” said Khazri. “They deserve to qualify and we deserve the third place.”
Against Panama, arguably the weakest proposition in the group, Tunisia struck the balance right and won deservedly, maintaining their composure when trailing and getting a reward for their slick and attacking football with neatly crafted second-half goals from Ben Youssef and Khazri, ensuring a historic, first World Cup finals victory in 40 years and an upbeat end to their campaign in Russia.
“It is a victory that feels good in the last game,” said substitute Anice Badri. “We had the heart to shatter that stretch of 40 years that we hadn’t won at a World Cup. So, it was important to finish the group stages well. It was a difficult match. A good second half, so we have three points. The group standings are logic.”
“It is certain that we wanted to do better, but we landed difficult opponents and it wasn’t easy,” said defender Yohan Ben Alouane.
“We had difficult matches, but we are growing step by step. It is a young team with potential. In life you never loose. When you lose, you learn. In this competition we have learned and that is going to be important for the future.”
In Russia, Tunisia were the fourth-youngest squad with an average age of 26.5 years, just behind France, England and Nigeria. This new generation of players and their World Cup experience must propel the Carthage Eagles to greater heights in Africa, starting at the 2019 African Cup of Nations in Cameroon. Tunisia last won the continental competition in 2004 and never reached the last four in the last two editions.
“Honestly, we would like to do better than the quarterfinals and we should try to reach the semifinal,” said midfielder Naim Sliti. “The World Cup will help us to be better in Africa, to make a big impression in Africa and then do better in four years time.”
The future of coach Nabil Maaloul, however, remains in doubt. Maaloul, who succeeded Poland’s Henryk Kasperczak after the 2017 African Cup of Nations, was tight-lipped at a news conference when asked about his position with Tunisia. The 55-year-old is left to mull over a campaign in which Tunisia scored a record five goals, but did not fulfil its potential.
“He has shown his qualities,” said Ben Alouane. “Of course, people will begin to talk, but we are all behind the coach. Really, he is an extraordinary person and we are all proud of having played the World Cup with him.”


Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo accepts $21.6 million fine for tax evasion, avoids jail

Updated 22 January 2019
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Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo accepts $21.6 million fine for tax evasion, avoids jail

MADRID: Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo was fined almost €19 million ($21.6 million) for tax fraud on Tuesday but will avoid serving a 23-month prison sentence after agreeing a deal.

Ronaldo, holding hands with his Spanish fiancée Georgina Rodriguez, came out of the court room smiling, pausing to sign autographs before leaving in a black van.

The 33-year-old Juventus forward, who played for Real Madrid from 2009-18, agreed to settle the case by paying an €18.8 million fine and accepting a suspended jail sentence.

Under Spanish law, a first offender can serve anything less than a two-year sentence under probation and Ronaldo will not have to go to prison. His court appearance lasted about 15 minutes as the five-times world footballer of the year only needed to sign off on the previously settled agreement.

The trial of Ronaldo’s former Real Madrid team mate Xabi Alonso, also in court on Tuesday over accusations of tax fraud, was suspended, a court magistrate said.

Prosecutors were seeking a five-year jail sentence and a fine of €4 million for Spaniard Alonso, who retired as a player in 2017, accusing him of defrauding the Spanish state of some €2 million between 2010 and 2012.

Alonso said he was confident he had not committed a crime and would have to wait while the magistrates evaluated his case.

“I’d be worried if I thought I had something to hide or something I didn’t do right but as that isn’t the case, I am carrying on,” Alonso told reporters outside the court.

Ronaldo had to enter the courtroom through the front door after his request for special security measures to avoid the spotlight was denied on Monday. In 2017, Ronaldo denied the accusation that he knowingly used a business structure to hide income generated by his image rights in Spain between 2011 and 2014. After reaching the deal, he paid a fine of €5.7 million, plus interest of about €1 million, in July 2018, the prosecutor’s office said last week.