Wahbi Khazri conceded it was a bittersweet evening after his winning goal against France proved insufficient for Tunisia to qualify for the World Cup knockout stages.

Khazri was named man of the match after a wonderful display capped by a 58th-minute goal that handed Tunisia a 1-0 win at Education City Stadium.

Unfortunately for Jalel Kadri’s men it was not enough to secure a place in the round of 16 as Australia beat Denmark 1-0 to finish second in Group D behind Les Bleus.

Khazri, who plays his club football in France for Montpellier, said: "It's a mixed feeling. We are happy to beat a team like France, we gave a very good performance and we leave with our heads held high but it's bittersweet as it would've been perfect to win and go through.

"Ultimately, it’s our fault as we didn’t do enough in the first two games."

Roared on by a boisterous support, Tunisia dominated a France team containing nine changes from that which beat the Danes on Saturday. Khazri had already tested Steve Mandanda in the France goal before, 13 minutes into the second half, he slalomed his way through a static backline and slotted into the bottom corner.

France thought they had found an injury-time equaliser but Antoine Griezmann, introduced off the bench by Didier Deschamps alongside Kylian Mbappe, was adjudged to have been offside before volleying past Aymen Dahmen.

Khazri had no excuses and blamed Tunisia’s display in their 1-0 defeat to Australia at the weekend as the reason why they are heading home.

"When I came off [in the 59th minute] I saw the score in the other game," he added. "We were hoping for a goal from Denmark but that’s what happens when you depend on others in football, and in life in general.

"I am sure the Tunisia fans are proud of us, it's a shame we cannot celebrate properly."

Tunisia coach Jalel Kadri echoed Khazri’s sentiments but backtracked on an earlier claim that he would resign if his side did not progress.

"I don't know why you insist that I resign," he said. "We have been able to continue our work and the contract I have in Tunisia is based on objectives. The objectives were not fulfilled but we still have to do the analysis, and it will be up to the Tunisian Federation to decide if I have achieved the targets or not.

"We beat the defending champions and did our best. It wasn't easy to collect four points. We played well for five and a half halves with only one – against Australia – not being good enough."

Deschamps defended his decision to make so many changes with his second-string side producing a disjointed display.

He said: "We came up against a strong squad and were timid, late into the one on ones and made technical errors. But when we brought on the more experienced players, we had a couple of goalscoring opportunities and thought we'd equalised at the end of the game.

"The first objective was to secure a place in the round of 16. We took this game into consideration but [our approach] will pay off in a few days' time.

"We need all 24 players to be available to play on Sunday. We needed to juggle the squad.

"Say if we'd won, it wouldn't have changed the fact we play in four days' time and we topped the group."

Deschamps was mystified by the decision to disallow Griezmann's goal, with VAR intervening after New Zealand referee Matthew Conger had already appeared to have blown the final whistle.

"I need to look at the rules maybe but why did the referee blow the final whistle and then look at VAR?" he added. "I'm not sure this is allowed."

France will play the team that finishes second in Group C on Sunday – one of Poland, Argentina, Saudi Arabia or Mexico.

Denmark were the surprise package at Euro 2020 and by the end of the group stage, were also everyone's second team.

This was partly due to their impressive performances, recovering from losing their first two group matches to thrash both Russia and Wales, before beating the Czech Republic to reach the semi-finals.

Denmark ultimately lost to England in the final four, but there was another reason why non-Danes had developed a soft spot for the team.

The harrowing scenes in their opening defeat to Finland in Copenhagen as medics attempted to revive Christian Eriksen on the pitch after he collapsed left those watching hoping for the best outcome for the player and his team-mates, who created a barrier around him.

Thankfully, not only did Eriksen survive, but he has since returned to the top level of the game, coming off the bench against the Netherlands in March to a standing ovation before finding the back of the net just two minutes later.

The Manchester United midfielder's presence will be symbolic and inspirational in Qatar, but head coach Kasper Hjulmand is under no illusion that his team will need to rely on more than positivity, saying: "I think we're in a good position, but you cannot just go on emotions and play. We will need to have quality on the pitch.

"I think that the football quality is there and we're ready."

Denmark were no one-tournament wonders either, sailing through their World Cup qualifying group, winning their first nine games and keeping clean sheets in their first eight, more than any other team.

One player Tunisia will need to keep an eye on is full-back Joakim Maehle. No player scored more goals for Denmark in qualifying than Maehle (five, level with Andreas Skov Olsen), while no player was directly involved in more goals for the nation during Euro 2020 than the Atalanta man (three, two goals and one assist).

They will have a tough job against Tunisia though, with the Eagles of Carthage experts at keeping games tight and stopping the opposition from playing.

Jalel Kadri was appointed as head coach after their disappointing quarter-final exit to Burkina Faso at the Africa Cup of Nations, and started by beating Mali over two legs to qualify for Qatar 2022 and winning four of their next five games, before a 5-1 friendly humbling at the hands of Brazil in September.

He has set high standards for himself, recently saying: "If we do not reach the knockout phase of the 2022 World Cup, I will leave. I have a contract based on results and being eliminated from the group stage will be a failure for me."

While Tunisia will not be easy to break down, their record at World Cups will need to improve if they are to make any mark on the tournament.

Tunisia have lost 60 per cent of their World Cup games (nine out of 15), the third-highest percentage by a team to have played at least 15 games in the competition, behind only Saudi Arabia (69 per cent - 11 of 16) and Australia (63 per cent - 10 of 16).

Their record against European opposition also leaves a lot to be desired, having played the most games against European opponents at the World Cup of any side without winning (D3 L7). In fact, each of their last four defeats in the competition came against teams from Europe (Spain and Ukraine in 2006, England and Belgium in 2018).

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Denmark – Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg 

The Tottenham man has developed into one of Europe's premier deep-lying midfielders, and will provide the drive in the middle next to Eriksen's more refined skill.

In the Premier League this season, only Manchester City's Rodri has attempted more than his 925 passes, while in Europe's big five leagues, only Pedri (seven), Lionel Messi, Mario Gotze (both six), Joshua Kimmich and Harvey Barnes (both five) have recorded more than Hojbjerg's four secondary assists (the pass before the assist).

Tunisia – Wahbi Khazri

The former Sunderland and Saint-Etienne forward has been the main man for his country on the big stage, and will be needed to show off his talents again in Qatar.

Khazri has been directly involved in each of Tunisia's last four goals at the World Cup (two goals, two assists), and also had three goal involvements at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year (two goals, one assist).


PREDICTION

Possibly due to the form of the Danes and Tunisia's poor record at World Cups, Hjulmand's men will be clear favourites at Education City Stadium.

According to Stats Perform's AI model, Denmark have a 65.0 per cent chance of victory, with Tunisia at just 13.9 per cent to win.

The draw, rated at 21.1 per cent, seems possible given Denmark's lack of a proven goalscorer and their opponents' ability to close games down.

Neymar scored twice as Paris Saint-Germain made it consecutive wins to start the Ligue 1 season with an emphatic 5-2 victory over Montpellier at the Parc des Princes on Saturday.

The champions started their title defence with a 5-0 win against Clermont last weekend in Christophe Galtier's first league game in charge, and they followed that up with a ninth success in their past 10 league games against Montpellier, despite a penalty miss from Kylian Mbappe midway through the first half.

The France international made amends soon after when his cross was turned into his own net by Falaye Sacko, before Neymar doubled the hosts' advantage from a second penalty of the game.

Neymar and Mbappe scored either side of Wahbi Khazri's goal for the visitors, while there were late efforts from debutant Renato Sanches and Montpellier's Enzo Tchato Mbiayi. 

Neymar scored twice as Paris Saint-Germain made it consecutive wins to start the Ligue 1 season with an emphatic 5-2 victory over Montpellier at the Parc des Princes on Saturday.

The champions started their title defence with a 5-0 win against Clermont last weekend in Christophe Galtier's first league game in charge, and they followed that up with a ninth success in their past 10 league games against Montpellier, despite a penalty miss from Kylian Mbappe midway through the first half.

The France international made amends soon after when his cross was turned into his own net by Falaye Sacko, before Neymar doubled the hosts' advantage from a second penalty of the game.

Neymar and Mbappe scored either side of Wahbi Khazri's goal for the visitors, while there were late efforts from debutant Renato Sanches and Montpellier's Enzo Tchato Mbiayi. 

Tunisia head coach Mondher Kebaier hit out at referee Janny Sikazwe's "inexplicable" decision to bring an early end to Wednesday's Africa Cup of Nations clash with Mali.

Mali were leading the Group F match 1-0 through a Ibrahima Kone penalty when the Zimbabwean official blew for full-time in the 85th minute.

Kebaier realised his error and play resumed for another four minutes, during which time Mali forward El Bilal Toure was dismissed, before blowing again with 13 seconds to go.

That was despite a number of stoppages in the second half, including a couple of lengthy VAR checks for Kone's penalty and one that Wahbi Khazri missed for Tunisia.

Tunisia officials stormed onto the field to protest, arguing that not only should the remaining seconds have been played, but time should also have been added on at the end.

In incredible scenes, Mali coach Mohamed Magassouba was speaking at his post-match news conference when word emerged that the game would restart.

Around 40 minutes after the game was supposed to have concluded, Mali's players made their way back on the field, but Tunisia's players did not re-emerge from the tunnel.

Tunisia boss Kebaier later explained that his players were not in a position to play the remaining minutes and suggested an appeal will be lodged.

"It's a difficult situation to deal with," he told reporters. "The referee also blew with five minutes left in the first half.

"Then he blew after 89 minutes in the second, denying us practically seven or eight minutes of added time.

"His decision is inexplicable. I can't understand how he made his decision and we will see what happens now."

Asked about events after the game, Kebaier added: "He blew for full-time and asked us to go to the dressing room. The players were in their ice baths when asked to come out.

"In 30 years in this business I have never seen anything like it."

The controversial end to the match meant kick-off in the later game between Mauritania and Gambia at the same ground was pushed back by 45 minutes.

Should the result stand, Mali will be in a strong position to advance into the knockout stages of the competition for the second tournament running.

Giving his side's view on the drama, Mali boss Magassouba said: "These are administrative questions. We were told to go back on the pitch because the game was not finished.

"Unfortunately the opposition team did not want to come back out and the final whistle was blown."

Wahbi Khazri had a second-half penalty saved as Tunisia fell to a contentious 1-0 loss against Mali in their Africa Cup of Nations opener in which referee Janny Sikazwe was at the centre of controversy.

Sikazwe awarded both sides a penalty in the second half and dismissed Mali forward El Bilal Toure before blowing for full-time early to spark angry scenes at Stade Limbe.

After a low-key first half that saw neither side go particularly close, Ibrahima Kone converted past debutant keeper Bechir Ben Said from 12 yards after Ellyes Skhiri blocked Boubakar Kouyate's shot with his hand.

Tunisia, the fourth-highest ranked African side, toiled without truly being able to test Ibrahim Mounkoro in the Group F clash between the sides expected to advance in the top two spots ahead of Gambia and Mauritania.

But the 2004 tournament winners were given a lifeline 16 minutes from time as Sikazwe again pointed to the spot when Khazri's cross hit Moussa Djenepo on the hand, only for the Saint-Etienne striker's penalty to be saved by Mounkoro.

After the referee initially blew for full-time in the 85th minute, play resumed and Mali substitute Toure was shown a straight red card for catching Dylan Bronn, before Sikazwe again brought play to a halt 10 seconds early despite a raft of substitutions and a cooling break.

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