Tunisia secure third place in Group G with defeat of Panama
SARANSK, Russia — Neatly-taken second-half goals by Fakhreddine Ben Yousseff and Wahbi Khazri gave Tunisia a 2-1 victory over Panama in their final Group G match in Saransk on Thursday and secured the North Africans their first World Cup finals win in 40 years.
Tunisia, playing fluent and composed football, dominated the match but were trailing 1-0 at halftime after a shot by Panama’s Jose Luis Rodriguez took a deflection off Tunisian defender Yassine Meriah in the 33rd minute.
Having failed to finish off several chances in the first half, Tunisia took six minutes to assert themselves after the restart. Ben Yousseff picked up a neat low cross from Khazri to slot the ball home from close range.
Ben Yousseff should have given Tunisia the lead minutes later but Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo stuck out his foot to parry the shot.
Khazri, who had always looked dangerous, obliged in the 66th minute, running unmarked on to a low cross from defender Oussama Haddadi to tap into an open goal.
Panama pushed hard and caused anxious moments for Tunisia, but lacked killer instinct.
The two teams had already been eliminated from the tournament before the match started, both having lost to England and Belgium.
But they played for pride in a spirited duel and the fervour of the more than 37,000 fans in the Mordovia Arena belied the notion that this was a pointless match between to two lowly nations.
The North Africans, making their fifth appearance in the World Cup finals, had not won a game since beating Mexico in Argentina in 1978 to become the first African country to win a match at the tournament.
Panama were making their debut and will go home disappointed, having declared their dream of making history by taking at least a point.