AL RAYYAN, Qatar -- France were already through to the round of 16, but coach Didier Deschamps won't be happy with the manner of their 1-0 defeat to Tunisia.
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Wahbi Khazri scored the only goal of the game in the 58th minute, and Deschamps' second string, with most of his star names given a rest, failed to do anything to push their case for a place in the team.
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Antoine Griezmann had a goal controversially disallowed by the VAR at the end of eight minutes of added time, but in truth France didn't deserve to get anything from the game against a Tunisia side who will now head home.
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1. Deschamps' experiment backfires
With France already qualified for the round of 16 and almost assured of first place in the group, this game was effectively meaningless for Deschamps. So the France head coach decided to use it as a big experimentation.
Deschamps made nine changes to the team that had beaten Denmark so convincingly on Saturday, leaving Kylian Mbappe, Griezmann and Theo Hernandez on the bench. Only Raphael Varane and Aurelien Tchouameni kept their place in the starting XI. However, rotating is not the problem here, it's that the system was completely wrong. Les Bleus had no structure and were all over the place.
The 4-3-3 with Matteo Guendouzi as a left-winger and Eduardo Camavinga as a left-back didn't work at all. It was unbalanced, and the players looked lost. Four years ago in Russia, Deschamps also changed everything for the third group game against Denmark, and the 0-0 draw was the worst game of that tournament. He did it again. This time, his team lost, he didn't learn anything and his experiment backfired.
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2. Depth, what depth?
This game was also the opportunity for some of the France players to show their manager what they were made of in a World Cup context and that they could challenge for a place in the starting XI. Well, that didn't work either.
Apart from the superb Ibrahima Konate at the back and, to a certain extent, Randal Kolo Muani, who tried a lot and had a few good touches up front, all the other newcomers had disastrous performances.
Camavinga, albeit in a very unusual left-back position, had a bit of a nightmare. But Youssouf Fofana, of whom Deschamps thinks highly, also had a shocker in his normal position in midfield and missed a big chance to impress. The same has to be said for Kingsley Coman, who is in competition with Ousmane Dembele for a starting place on the right wing but who was poor. Jordan Veretout was abject in midfield, and Matteo Guendouzi was positioned as a left-winger (then a right one) and, totally out of position, disappointed. Axel Disasi, for his first cap, played right-back and didn't do enough either.
It was an evening of disappointments overall, in terms of the result and the individual and collective performances.
3. Khazri, a touch of class
What a player! Where would Tunisia be in this group if Khazri had been fully fit from the start of the tournament? Surely in the round of 16. Khazri's minutes have been restricted because of injuries, and he could play only an hour in this game. But the captain, even not fully fit, carried them to a famous win against the reigning world champions.
Khazri took his superb goal with all the flair and technical ability he possesses. His touch is great, whether it is with his favoured right foot (as we can see on his dead ball deliveries) or with his left like the half-volley keeper Steve Mandanda struggled to parry in the first half. He is a leader, a guide and an artist. He is also, without a doubt, Tunisia's best player.
At 31, this could well be the last World Cup for the Montpellier forward, and he dreamed of qualifying his country for the knockout rounds. He did his bit against France, the country where he was born. It's a shame that his tournament is now over, but Tunisia just couldn't do it without him.
Tunisia: Aymen Dahmen 5, Yassine Meriah 6, Nader Ghandri 6, Montassar Talbi 6, Wajdi Kechrida 5, Ellyes Skhiri 7, Aissa Laidouni 6, Ali Maaloul 6, Anis Ben Slimane 6, Mohamed Ali 6, Ben Romdhane 5, Ghaylen Chaaleli 5, Wahbi Khazri 7
Subs: Issam Jebali 4, Ghaylen Chaaleli 5, Ali Abdi 5
France: Steve Mandanda 4, Axel Disasi 3, Raphael Varane 4, Ibrahima Konate 7, Eduardo Camavinga 3, Youssouf Fofana 3, Aurelien Tchouameni 6, Jordan Veretout 3 , Kingsley Coman 4, Randal Kolo Muani 5, Matteo Guendouzi 4
Subs: William Saliba 5, Adrien Rabiot 5, Antoine Griezmann 5, Ousmane Dembele 4, Kylian Mbappe 5
Best and worst performers
BEST: Ibrahima Konate
The Liverpool centre-back was excellent throughout the whole game. He won 93% of his duels (13 out of 14), completed 99% of his passes (71 of 72), with nine in the Tunisia final third. He was a rock alongside Varane and then William Saliba. He didn't commit a single foul in this game but recovered the ball five times. Very impressive!
WORST: Youssouf Fofana
The Monaco midfielder had a chance to impress Deschamps, but he failed totally. He was overrun, lost the ball too often (only 79% of accurate passes) and kept making the wrong decisions. Playing alongside friend and former teammate Tchouameni should have helped him, but instead he crumbled.
Highlights and notable moments
Wahbi Khazri will forever be remembered by Tunisians. A moment of magic, a moment for the history books 🇹🇳#FIFAWorldCup | @FTF_OFFICIELLE pic.twitter.com/ZzBraamQlZ— CAF (@CAF_Online) November 30, 2022
After the match: What the players and managers said
Tunisia coach Jalel Kadri, on the win: "It's mixed feelings because we're happy to beat a team like France ... We can be proud and leave with our head high, but it is a bitter victory.
"It would have been beautiful to beat France and reach the last 16. It is our fault for not doing what we needed to do before."
France coach Didier Deschamps, on his line-up: "[The players] will learn from this ... Tunisia were right up for it while we were timid, late into the challenges and made too many errors, even if we did do better at the end when some more experienced players came on.
"This result means we haven't met all our objectives but the most important one was to be in the last 16."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- Only three times have the reigning champions lost to an African team at the World Cup, and two of those three instances have been France losing to a former French colony (2002 vs. Senegal, 2022 vs. Tunisia).
- Before this edition, Australia had kept only one clean sheet at the World Cup -- a 0-0 draw in 1974 vs. Chile. They now have two in the 2022 tournament.
- Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri is the first African player in World Cup history to score in three consecutive starts, and he was directly involved in each of Tunisia's last five goals at the tournament (three goals, two assists).
Tunisia: Australia's win over Denmark meant that Tunisia's efforts were all for nothing, and they now head home.
France: Deschamps takes his team to Doha and the Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday, where Les Bleus will meet the winners of Group C. They will find out their round-of-16 opponents later on Wednesday.