Tunisia defeated Iraq 3-0 in the all-Arab clash at the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup on Thursday to keep their second round hopes very much alive and leave the losers stunned and looking at early elimination.
Despite the scoreline, Iraq dominated much of the game against the clinical North Africans but two goals in two minutes early in the second half turned the game at La Plata in Argentina on its head.
With one round of matches in Group E remaining, England, who defeated Uruguay 3-2 earlier, have six points from their two games so far and are through to the second round. Uruguay and Tunisia, who meet on Sunday, have three points each.
With the top two from each of the six groups going through along with the four best third-placed teams, there is every chance that the young Carthage Eagles can make it, especially if they are as ruthless as they were here.
With zero points and a minus-seven goal difference after losing 4-0 to Uruguay in the opening game, Iraq, who finished fourth in their last appearance in this tournament back in 2013, are all but out.
After the two teams had lost their opening games, it was not a surprise that the opening stages were cautious and cagey. There were three yellow cards by the midway point of the first half, more than the number of genuine attempts on goal.
Iraq started to get into gear on the half hour as Youssef Amyn made space for himself on the right side of the area before forcing a good save, the first of 10, from Dries Arfaoui. Just two minutes later, Tunisia had the ball in the net as Samy Chouchane swung over a deep free kick that was stabbed home by Mohamed Derbali but he was not the only player who was clearly offside.
The tempo was picking up as Abdulqader Ayoub forced a flying save from Arfaoui with a well-struck shot from outside the area, and after 38 minutes the goalkeeper was diving to his right to push away another dangerous Iraqi effort from Hayder Abdulkarim. Tunisia were relieved to go in at the break on level terms as the Asian team really should have broken the deadlock.
The second half started in the same vein and Iraq came even closer. Amyn’s fierce shot from the right side of the area was pushed onto the post by Arfaoui. It was a fine save but Iraq were starting to turn the screw.
Yet Tunisia opened the scoring 10 minutes after the break as a delightful close range back-flick from Youssef Snana turned home a low-cross from Raed Bouchniba. It was completely against the run of play and by far their best attack.
Two minutes later they scored again as the Iraqi defense fell asleep. Derbali’s cross from the right found Chaim El-Djebeli around the penalty spot, who stretched out a leg to guide the ball into the bottom corner. The men in white, who had been dominant, were stunned.
A sliver of hope was thrown to Iraq with 17 minutes remaining as Tunisian substitute Rayan Nasraoui was sent off for kicking out at Kadhim Raad after the two tangled. It meant more pressure from Iraq and within seconds, Ghaith Ouahabi cleared an Ali Jassim shot off the line.
With six minutes remaining, Tunisia ended the game as a contest after being given a penalty following a Sajjad Mahdi foul. Mahmoud Ghorbel made no mistake from the spot.
It capped a miserable night for Iraq who know that their tournament is all but over as they prepare to face England in the final game. Tunisia will be certain of a place in the second round if they defeat Uruguay and a draw may well be enough to go through as one of the best third-placed teams.