Tunisians celebrated a historic but bittersweet World Cup victory over France on Wednesday as they defeated their former colonial power but still crashed out of a tournament marked by a remarkable string of Arab wins over soccer powerhouses.
Car horns sounded in Tunis after the final whistle in Tunisia's 1-0 win as fans savoured the moment even though their side did not make it through to the last 16 of the Qatar World Cup, the first in an Arab country.
The victory marked another proud World Cup moment for Arab fans still celebrating Saudi Arabia's historic win over Argentina and Morocco's defeat of Belgium - victories applauded across the Arab region despite its deep political divisions.
"The victory over France was wonderful and had a special taste...Arab football regained its dignity from the former colonialists countries," said Narredine ben Salem, sitting in the Tunis cafe where he watched the match.
As the game ended, dozens of people ran into the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue, often the site of political protests, waving flags and cheering.
In the official fan zone in Tunis, about 2,000 fans had been cheering through the game, many in Tunisian national soccer shirts or with their faces painted.
When France appeared to have equallised with seconds remaining they fell eerily quiet, only to erupt into a huge cheer and dancing when the goal was disallowed for offside.
"It was a beautiful victory and a convincing performance, but in the end it was very harsh to be knocked out...I am very sad...We hope that Saudi Arabia will make us happy," Ben Salem said, reflecting hopes that Saudi Arabia would make to the next round, but that did not happen as the Saudis lost 1-2 to Mexico.
In Qatar, Saudi fans celebrated Tunisia's win, another show of the pan-Arab unity that has been a feature of the tournament, said Abeer Awaisha, a Tunisian fan in Qatar.
"We didn’t expect (Tunisia to defeat France) because France is a strong team but we were better and we played very well," Awaisha said.
Many Tunisians watched Saudi Arabia's decisive match against Mexico later on Wednesday.
Speaking ahead of the Tunisian match, Saudi fan Abdullah al-Rasaei said: "This is a World Cup for all Arabs, not just Qatar, and as you can see there is a big Arab celebration and hopefully it will be crowned with an Arab success."
While he was expecting a strong performance from Morocco, he said Saudi Arabia "honestly surprised us in the match with Argentina, it raised the bar high".
Morocco supporter Khalim Farouki, 25, in Doha, said: "There is a big solidarity between us, Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We support each other."
Some Arab leaders attending the World Cup have echoed the sense of pan-Arab solidarity during matches. (Reuters)
Related Story