Tunisia defeated Panama 2-1 in their final FIFA World Cup Group G clash at the Mordavia Arena on Thursday.
Fakhreddine Ben Youssef and Wahbi Khazri finished superb passing moves to give the Eagles of Carthage a deserved victory in an entertaining second half, after trailing to an unfortunate deflected goal in a more tactical first half.
Both sides were already out after losing their matches against England and Belgium, so they had nothing more than pride to play for.
The Eagles of Carthage started brightly, dominating possession and putting together some decent moves, albeit without a great deal of urgency. They had most of the early half-chances, and the impressive Naim Sliti’s excellent low cross deserved a better finish than it received. Unfortunately for Tunisia, Sliti also wasted a few presentable openings.
Panama’s only early chance of note was headed harmlessly wide by Gabriel Torres. Otherwise, they kept their shape well and defended doggedly, albeit not always legally – Ricardo Avila conceded three fouls in the first 20 minutes.
Suddenly, against the run of play, it was the Central Americans who took the lead in the 33rd minute. Jose Luis Rodriguez’s shot from outside the area took a wicked deflection off Yassine Meriah, giving goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi no chance.
It was tough on Tunisia, who continued to dominate possession after the goal. Oussama Haddidi delivered two excellent crosses, only to see Ben Youssef and Khazri fail to convert them – Ben Youssef headed narrowly wide, while Khazri’s strike was high, wide and not particularly handsome. When Ferjani Sassi was booked for a cynical foul on Rodriguez, it seemed to sum up a frustrating half for the African side.
The second half was a very different story. Tunisia raced out of the blocks, netting an excellent equaliser in the 51st minute, as Ben Youssef confidently finished a slick passing move. He could have doubled his tally just a few minutes later but shot too close to Mathlouthi.
Panama seemed to be on the ropes, and they suffered a further blow when their defensive talisman Roman Torres was injured and had to be substituted. It was a sad end to the tournament for the man whose goal had earned his country their first ever World Cup qualification.
Tunisia’s pressure was relentless, with Los Canaleros conceding three corners in as many minutes. Yet Panama could have taken the lead again through Edgar Barcenas, as Mathlouthi’s goalkeeping was none too convincing.
Instead, the Eagles of Carthage took the lead, Khazri converting another fine passing move in the 66th minute. It was nothing less than Tunisia deserved, having outplayed Panama in the second half.
Panama continued to show great endeavour and determination, and they were unfortunate not to equalise when Barcenas fired in a stunning drive from 25 yards – only for the goal to be harshly disallowed for an alleged foul in the buildup.
The Central Americans kept pressing right to the end, with Anibal Godoy firing narrowly wide and Barcenas firing a free kick straight at Mathlouthi in added time. However, Tunisia held on for the win.
Tunisia’s victory was their first World Cup win in forty years, while Panama can derive some comfort from a spirited performance after two heavy defeats by Belgium and England.