Wahbi Khazri conceded it was a bittersweet evening after his winning goal against France proved insufficient for Tunisia to qualify for the World Cup knockout stages.
Khazri was named man of the match after a wonderful display capped by a 58th-minute goal that handed Tunisia a 1-0 win at Education City Stadium.
Unfortunately for Jalel Kadri’s men it was not enough to secure a place in the round of 16 as Australia beat Denmark 1-0 to finish second in Group D behind Les Bleus.
Khazri, who plays his club football in France for Montpellier, said: “It’s a mixed feeling. We are happy to beat a team like France, we gave a very good performance and we leave with our heads held high but it’s bittersweet as it would’ve been perfect to win and go through.
“Ultimately, it’s our fault as we didn’t do enough in the first two games.”
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Roared on by a boisterous support, Tunisia dominated a France team containing nine changes from that which beat the Danes on Saturday. Khazri had already tested Steve Mandanda in the France goal before, 13 minutes into the second half, he slalomed his way through a static backline and slotted into the bottom corner.
France thought they had found an injury-time equaliser but Antoine Griezmann, introduced off the bench by Didier Deschamps alongside Kylian Mbappe, was adjudged to have been offside before volleying past Aymen Dahmen.
Khazri had no excuses and blamed Tunisia’s display in their 1-0 defeat to Australia at the weekend as the reason why they are heading home.
“When I came off [in the 59th minute] I saw the score in the other game,” he added. “We were hoping for a goal from Denmark but that’s what happens when you depend on others in football, and in life in general.
“I am sure the Tunisia fans are proud of us, it’s a shame we cannot celebrate properly.”
Tunisia coach Jalel Kadri echoed Khazri’s sentiments but backtracked on an earlier claim that he would resign if his side did not progress.
“I don’t know why you insist that I resign,” he said. “We have been able to continue our work and the contract I have in Tunisia is based on objectives. The objectives were not fulfilled but we still have to do the analysis, and it will be up to the Tunisian Federation to decide if I have achieved the targets or not.
“We beat the defending champions and did our best. It wasn’t easy to collect four points. We played well for five and a half halves with only one – against Australia – not being good enough.”
Deschamps defended his decision to make so many changes with his second-string side producing a disjointed display.
He said: “We came up against a strong squad and were timid, late into the one on ones and made technical errors. But when we brought on the more experienced players, we had a couple of goalscoring opportunities and thought we’d equalised at the end of the game.
“The first objective was to secure a place in the round of 16. We took this game into consideration but [our approach] will pay off in a few days’ time.
“We need all 24 players to be available to play on Sunday. We needed to juggle the squad.
“Say if we’d won, it wouldn’t have changed the fact we play in four days’ time and we topped the group.”
Deschamps was mystified by the decision to disallow Griezmann’s goal, with VAR intervening after New Zealand referee Matthew Conger had already appeared to have blown the final whistle.
“I need to look at the rules maybe but why did the referee blow the final whistle and then look at VAR?” he added. “I’m not sure this is allowed.”
France will play the team that finishes second in Group C on Sunday – one of Poland, Argentina, Saudi Arabia or Mexico.