Tunisians enjoy historic but bittersweet win over France

TUNIS/DOHA, Nov 30 (Reuters) – Tunisia celebrated a historic but bittersweet World Cup victory over France on Wednesday as they defeated their former colonial power but were nonetheless eliminated from a tournament marked by a remarkable string of Arab victories over football powerhouses.

Car horns blared in Tunis after the final whistle of Tunisia’s 1-0 win as fans savored the moment despite their side failing to make it to the last 16 of the World Cup in Qatar, the first in an Arab country.

It was the third upset by an Arab country against top-flight opponents, but like Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina last week, it was not enough to qualify.

The Saudis fell 2-1 to Mexico on Wednesday and hosts Qatar are already eliminated, giving an Arab side a chance of a place in the last 16 when Morocco – who beat second-placed Belgium on Sunday – face Canada on Thursday starts .

Already the surprising Arab victories in the opening phase were celebrated throughout the Arab region, despite their deep political divisions.

“The victory over France was wonderful and had a special flavor… Arab football has regained its dignity from the former colonial countries,” said Narredine ben Salem, sitting in the Tunis café watching the game.

When the game was over, dozens of people ran onto central Habib Bourguiba Avenue, often the scene of political protests, waving flags and cheering.

In the official fan zone in Tunis, around 2,000 fans were rooting for the game, many in Tunisian football shirts or with painted faces.

“It was a nice win and a convincing performance, but in the end it was very tough to be eliminated,” said Ben Salem.

“We support each other”

In Qatar, Saudi fans celebrated Tunisia’s win, another show of Arab unity that was a feature of the tournament, said Abeer Awaisha, a Tunisian fan in Qatar.

Hours after Tunisia missed out on a place in the last 16, Saudi Arabia were also eliminated, although a late goal against Mexico reduced the deficit to a single goal.

“It’s enough that Saudi has won against Argentina, it’s a historic, unmatched achievement,” Saudi supporter Mashael Hussein said in Riyadh. “It’s true that we were hoping to win again, but in the end we went into (the game) with national pride.”

In Doha, another Saudi fan, Saleem al-Harbi, said Arab players had proved their quality against the world’s best.

“We hope that Arab and Asian teams will reach the later rounds and finals of the competition in the future. We are capable of that and the European and South American teams are no different from us,” he said.

“We are able to reach their level and be better than them.”

Morocco supporter Khalim Farouki, 25, said the competition brought Arab fans together: “There is great solidarity between us, Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We support each other.”

Some Arab leaders who attended the World Cup echoed this sentiment of solidarity during the Games.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who have patched up ties after years of hostility – wrapped each other’s scarves and flags as they watched their games.

Reporting by Tarek Amara, Angus McDowall and Jihed Abidellaoui in Tunis, Charlotte Bruneau and Muath Freij in Doha, Ahmed Yosri in Riyadh; writing by Tom Perry and Dominic Evans; Edited by Hugh Lawson, Ed Osmond and Pritha Sarkar

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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