Colonial history adds edge to France clash with Tunisia

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - France Training - Al Sadd SC Stadium, Doha, Qatar - November 28, 2022 France coach Didier Deschamps during training REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

AL RAYYAN, Qatar, Nov 29 (Reuters) - France’s first experience with a former colony in a World Cup match ended bitterly when, as defending champions, they played a fired-up Senegal in the opening game of the 2002 tournament and suffered a 1-0 defeat that precipitated a first-round exit.

Expectations for Wednesday’s meeting with Tunisia in their last group game in Qatar are very different, with the powerful French side through to the last 16 and expected to sweep the African team aside, but there is sure to be an edginess to the contest, born of the colonial links between the countries.

Ten of the Tunisia squad at this World Cup are French-born, some of them youth internationals for France before switching allegiance.

Another two have lived in France since a young age and are also dual nationals, adding a familiarity to the clash.

Experienced Tunisia striker Wahbi Khazri was born on the French island of Corsica and on the books of Ligue 1 club Montpellier.

"I wanted to be in France's group before the draw. It's a dream come true," Khazri told reporters on Tuesday.

"I try to represent Tunisia in France every weekend by performing well and I like to represent Corsica too, because I was born there. I carry a lot of flags on my shoulders, it's nice. I am 100% Tunisian, 100% French and 100% Corsican. I have no embarrassment about that," he added.

Khazri's relaxed attitude towards the match at the Education City Stadium is not the norm, however, as past clashes have been a forum for France’s marginalised migrant communities to vent their frustrations.

There are around 700,000 Tunisians living in France and Tunisia’s 2008 friendly against France in Paris was watched by many of them who whistled when the French anthem played and jeered every touch of the ball by France substitute Hatem Ben Arfa, who is of Tunisian descent.

It led to an angry reaction from French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who summoned the French Football Federation to a meeting and demanded no more matches on French soil against the national teams of former colonies from north Africa.

The government also insisted future games must be stopped if the national anthem was booed.

"It’s insulting for France, it’s insulting for the players of the French team, it should not be tolerated," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said at the time.

Tunisia’s team at this World Cup has benefited from passionate support from compatriots living in Qatar and they are expected to subject France to a hostile reception in the match, which the north Africans must win to stand any chance of avoiding elimination.

Editing by Ed Osmond

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