Arab teams impress in the first World Cup in the Middle East. Tunisia held European Championship semi-finalists Denmark to a 0-0 draw on Tuesday, three hours after Saudi Arabia shockingly upset Argentina.
In an Education City Stadium almost completely filled with supporters dressed in red, Tunisia probably deserved more, but an expert save by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel just before half-time helped Denmark keep the tie.
After Tunisia broke through the defence, he had already sunk into the grass and raised his hand to deflect a shot from Issam Jebali, who plays his club ball in Denmark for Odense.
It was exactly the kind of save the goalkeeper’s father, former Manchester United great Peter Schmeichel, used to make.
The match marked Christian Eriksen’s return to a major tournament less than a year and a half after his cardiac arrest with Denmark at Euro 2020.
Denmark felt they should have been awarded a penalty in stoppage time for handball checked on the VAR screen by referee Cesar Arturo Ramos, but instead awarded a free kick to Tunisia for a foul in the run-up.
Denmark had hoped to create more chances in the game, but their best came late in the second half when Cornelius only had to nod the ball over the line at the back post, but instead hit the woodwork.
Proud of qualifying for the World Cup in an Arab country this week, Tunisia was thrilled from the first whistle, celebrating every tackle as a goal, and having two excellent chances to open the scoring.
The first fell to Denmark-based Issam Jebali when he went one-on-one with Kasper Schmeichel. The second saw Aissa Laidouni run away from his own half, but as he approached Denmark’s penalty area, he hesitated and opted for a pass that wasn’t, rather than advance 10 yards and try on goal.
In the context of the game, both can see it as two points less, but Tunisia will certainly be happier given the low expectations placed on them – at least from outside their camp – to go into the tournament.
They will take on Australia next Saturday, a game they will have aimed to be the most winnable in the group, as Denmark meet France trailing the points tally they would have set for themselves at this stage.