Tunisia triumph 2-1 to deny Panama fairytale
Tunisia 2 (Youssef 51’, Khazri 66’)
Panama 1 (Meriah 33’ og)
By Natasha Prior
Tunisia has scored its first World Cup in 40 years after coming from behind to beat Panama 2-1 in Saransk.
Both sides were winless coming into this final group match and Panama looked set to claim its maiden World Cup win when it led 1-0 at half-time, but two second-half strikes by Tunisia ruined the fairytale story for the World Cup debutantes.
Despite both sides being desperate to salvage something from the tournament, Tunisia made eight changes to its starting line-up.
The Africans dominated early possession and looked more threatening but it was Panama to open the scoring in the 33rd minute courtesy of an own goal by Tunisian centre back Yassine Meriah, who became the ninth player at this World Cup so far to put the ball in his own net.
A shot from outside the box by Jose Luis Rodriguez didn’t appear threatening until it struck Meriah on the back and took a deflection which wrong-footed Tunisia keeper Aymen Mathlouthi.
Tunisia took control of the match in a 15-minute period early in the second half.
A flowing move found Wahbi Khazri in space on the right edge of the penalty area and his precise low cross was turned in by Fakhreddine Ben Youssuf in the 51st minute.
And it was Khazri who scored the winner after more intricate passing in the box saw Oussama Haddadi thread a ball across the six-yard box for the striker to tap-in from close range.
— Tunisie Football (@tunisiefootball) June 28, 2018
Tunisia had the better chances for the remainder of the match but were denied by a series of saves from Panama’s goalkeeper, Jaime Penedo,
Despite Tunisia’s win, it was a disappointing tournament for the five African teams which all failed to qualify for the round-of-16.
Panama heads home having accomplished its finest achievement to-date by making its first appearance in the World Cup.
Shots (on target)
Tunisia: 15 (7)
Panama: 9 (4)
Tunisia: 16 Mathlouthi, 4 Mariah, 5 Haddadi, 6 Bedoui, 8 F.B Youssef, 10 Khazri, 13 Sassi, 17 Skhiri, 20 Chaaleli, 21 Naguez, 23 Sliti.
Substitutes: 3 Allouante, 7 Khaoui, 9 Badiri, 12 Maalouf, 14 Amor, 15 Khalil, 18 Srarfi, 19 Khalifa, 1 Mestapha, 2 B. Youssef, 11 Bronn, 22 Hassen.
Panama: 1 Penedo, 4 Escobar, 5 R.Torres, 6 Gomez, 8 Barcenas, 9 G.Torres,13 Machado, 17 Ovalle, 19 Avila, 20 Godoy, 21 J.L. Rodriguez.
Substitutes: 3 Cummings, 7 B.Perez, 12 Calderon, 14 Pimentel, 15 Davis, 16 Arroyo, 18 Tejada, 22 Rodriguez, 23 Baloy, 2 Murillo, 11 Cooper, 10 Diaz