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.”


Beach football tournament, key attraction during weekend of sport at NEOM

Updated 19 min 4 sec ago
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Beach football tournament, key attraction during weekend of sport at NEOM

  • The FIFA-approved football tournament will see international teams grapple for glory at the NEOM Beach Soccer Cup
  • The Wakeboard World Cup will also take place at NEOM during the weekend

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s mega city NEOM is hosting an international beach soccer tournament from July 17 to 20 on the lush white beaches of the Red Sea coast.

Running alongside the tournament will also be the 50th Wakeboard World Cup, rugby and tennis in the Gayal region in NEOM.

The FIFA-approved football tournament will see international teams grapple for glory at the NEOM Beach Soccer Cup.

Countries including China and England will compete against Arab teams from Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt in a purpose-built venue, according to a tweet on the official NEOM Twitter page.

This will be the second time a sports event has been held, the first being an extreme adventure sports tournament in April.

The official logo

“The reason we chose extreme adventure sports at the first event in NEOM was because it’s a beautiful environment,” said Jason Harborow, head of NEOM’s future of sport sector.

“Sport is right at the center of what we want to achieve at NEOM, and that means sport for all: male, female, children and athletes with disabilities. NEOM will be for everybody.”

NEOM is being marketed as a tourist destination designed to attract dreamers and elite minds from around the world.

The aim of the mega project is to attract new business and work as an incubator of future technologies, while also acting as a major economic power and a leading center for global investment.

”The team looks forward to the day when NEOM will host a wide range of bold sports to become a world center for sport enthusiasts, thrill seekers and an international sports center that embraces the world’s most important championships in all areas,” said Jason Harborow, head of future sports at NEOM.

The tournament is part of the ongoing effort to promote the sport sector in NEOM and business that comes with it, including encouraging major sporting events to the region.