Tunisia captain Wahbi Khazri set up a second-half goal and then scored one of his own to help his side secure their first victory in a World Cup in four decades.
The striker’s hard, rising shot in the 66th minute lifted Tunisia to a 2-1 triumph over Panama last night. It came 15 minutes after Khazri’s pinpoint square pass led to Fakhreddine Ben Youssef’s equaliser.
Panama had taken the lead in the 33rd minute through an own goal when Jose Luis Rodriguez’s shot deflected off a Tunisia player and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way. Both Group G teams were already eliminated going into the match. Tunisia hadn’t won a World Cup game since a 3-1 victory over Mexico in 1978.
Tunisia were missing several players because of injuries. In addition to dealing with the absence of defender Dylan Bronn, Tunisia had to start 33-year-old third-choice goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi because their other keepers were injured.
Panama held a 1-0 half-time lead after Roman Torres’ pass found Rodriguez whose left-foot shot deflected off Tunisia forward Yassine Meriah. It became the 50th own goal in World Cup history when Meriah turned his body to block the shot and ended up sending it inside the far post after Mathlouthi had already started moving the other way,
The goal came against the run of play. But it didn’t take long for Tunisia to equalise and claim a World Cup milestone, the 2,500th goal in the history of the tournament.
The victory provided a measure of vindication for coach Nabil Maaloul, who led the team to the World Cup by infusing his line-ups with younger players.