Tunisia holds Denmark to goalless draw despite late drama
There was one question on everybody’s lips as the crowd filtered out of the swanky new Education City stadium: how did he not put that away? After just six matches, Denmark’s Andreas Cornelius already appears to have secured the miss of this World Cup, as he somehow contrived to steer his header on to a post from all of about six inches out.
But then, had he scored, or had the referee taken the Var steer and awarded Denmark a last-minute penalty for handball, it would have been more than harsh on a spirited, organised and together Tunisia side. As it was, the stalemate allowed Jalel Kadri’s superbly disciplined side to record their country’s first clean sheet in a World Cup match since 1978 (against West Germany).
Playing with the kind of tenacity wholly lacking in Iran’s performance against England, here is how good the Tunisians were: they were able to withstand a team containing the best deliverer of set pieces in the game.
This was Christian Eriksen’s first appearance in international tournament football since he suffered a catastrophic cardiac arrest during a Euros match in the summer of 2021. Now fitted with a implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) he has been stroking the ball around for first Brentford and now Manchester United for the past nine months.
But this was different. This was playing in a World Cup, something no-one ever imagined he would do as he lay on the turf of the Parken Stadium, his heart stopped, effectively dead for five minutes.
Not that there was any empathy on evidence at this World Cup match when he went to take the first corner, down by where thousands of Tunisian supporters were stationed. The boos, catcalls and whistles threatened to warp the steel superstructure of the new stadium.
Eriksen would not have minded. As he was recuperating after his near-death experience, he watched his colleagues progress to the Euros semi-final without him and found himself torn. Sure, he wanted them to do well. But he was also envious; how wanted to be there, at the heart of things, savouring the atmosphere.
Well, there was certainly an atmosphere on his return. Not that much of it was generated by the knot of Danes behind one goal. Instead, it came from the massed Tunisians, bellowing out their signature chant “Tui”, which made them sound as though they were promoting a well-kniown package tour operator. Every one of them was apparently anxious to yell their team over the line. And, more to the point, try to undermine their opponents.
Perhaps because he was so pleased just to be there, Eriksen seemed the Dane least perturbed by the ceaseless Tunisian din. He played as he does for United: cool, calm and calculating. As well as a master of the set piece (it was his corner that led to Cornelius’s comedy miss) he is also – and this may not be the correct technical term – the prince of the lurk. This is how he plays: lurking.
Not like Jude Bellingham, powering everywhere, not like N’Golo Kante, covering every blade of grass, but simply always being there. He is there on the edge of the area as an attack gets under way, at a colleague’s side offering an outball, somehow knowing precisely where to position himself ready to take advantage.
Set piece, and re-set, and re-set
15/24 - 15 of the 24 shots in Denmark’s game against Tunisia came from corner situations – the most recorded in a single World Cup match since 1966. Mixer. pic.twitter.com/dB9bgjN2mi
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 22, 2022
Denmark's quality put Tunisia's defence under pressure, forcing a mammoth haul of 11 corners – although Tunisia's nine corners tells a similar story of a very lively contest – but strong showings from Tunisia's defenders, and Dahmen, meant that Denmark still went without.
Now the dust has settled...
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Schmeichel and Dahmen
Both goalkeepers had an excellent run-out, pulling off some stupendous saves. Dahmen, in particular, should be lauded, along with Tunisia's entire backline, who rose to the occasion in spectacular fashion.
Nothing like late drama
More on that handball: It was Meriah involved, the ball missing the head of the leaping Hannibal, and striking his right, then his left arm.
The Denmark players didn't appeal wholeheartedly, perhaps already aware of the decision that would be made. Meriah's arms were in a natural position, and the ball smacking his left was a deflection from the first touch, neither putting him in the firing line.
ITV's Peter Walton further confirms that the referee's call was the right one.
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) November 22, 2022
Jim White's thoughts on the whistle
A brilliant defensive performance saw Tunisia achieve their first clean sheet in a World Cup match since 1978 (against West Germany). Tenacious, aggressive, well organised they were everything Iran claimed to be but were not against England. Even a side containing Christian Eriksen, the best set piece delivery merchant in the game, could not find a way past their heroic backline and stalwart keeper Aymen Dahmen.
And Tunisia knew how to break. To tumultuous backing from their support in the stands, they several times came close to matching Saudi Arabia in the surprise of the day stakes. It required a breathtaking save from Kasper Schmeichel to prevent Issa Jebali from chipping them a deserved victory. For Denmark now, they know they will have to better the French. But then they have done that in the recent Nations League.
That was certainly far more interesting than a goalless draw deserved to be, with Tunisia more than proving they were up for the challenge of a talented Denmark side.
Both sides have disallowed goals to rue, and the late Var intervention will likely be a talking point, but how much will Andreas Cornelius regret his near-miss in the second half?
It seems truly uncanny that Denmark did not score from this chance.
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) November 22, 2022
90+8 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
As Denmark surge forward, sloppy play gifts Tunisia a free kick halfway inside their half. With a long punt, the whistle blows: the points are shared in Group D!
90+7 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Denmark are pushing and pushing, denied their penalty, but they wring another corner out of the game, which Eriksen sends rightwards.
There will be a few more minutes, based on that Var check... Dahmen leaps out of his goal to collapse on top of the ball.
90+4 mins: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
My goodness! Penalty check following that corner, where the ball flew in and skittered down the arm of, I think, Talbi.
The referee sprints to the monitor, but it's no penalty! An enormous collective sigh of relief for Tunisia.
90+2 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Jensen pulls off a terrific throw-in, practically pulling his arms out of his sockets to find team-mates in the box.
Tunisia then have to face another onslaught after the ball is given away temptingly halfway inside the Tunisia half. Dahmen streaks out of his goal to push the ball out for a corner. The ball falls well, but Tunisia bundle the ball out as various Danish players appeal for something.
Dahmen is forced into making a third save after a curling effort fails to find Cornelius.
90 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Tunisia show off some excellent linked-up play, Abdi and Sliti digging deep into Danish territory, but Denmark throw men into defence, and keep Tunisia out.
Five minutes added time, as Denmark get to set up for a corner. Eriksen plays it in, but Tunisia get their head to the ball first.
87 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Tunisia come off the better after Denmark's free kick, Sliti flying down the left, looking for the breakthrough.
Abdi sends in a promising cross into the box, but there's no one there to cap it off.
Two changes for Tunisia: Sassi and Kechrida on for Drafer and Laidouni, who has been sensational for his country today.
85 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Denmark cling to possession, looking for that last-gasp route into the Tunisia half. But when Tunisia swipe the ball, Jensen and Khenissi go tearing after the pass into the Danish half.
Khenissi brings down Jensen, to earn his nation's first yellow of the tournament.
83 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Jensen sends the ball back to Schmeichel, but Khenissi sticks closely to him, looking for scraps.
As Schmeichel sends the ball back into the Tunisian half, Maehle on the run is pursued by Hannibal. The Denmark player is tumbled on the edge of the box, but he's just past the goal-line, and Dahmen gets the goal kick.
80 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Both attacking changes for Tunisia, and experience making way for youthful promise. Will either forward break the deadlock? 0-0 draws are few and far between at World Cups of late, although Denmark was an active participant in the last one, against France in 2018.
78 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
A second yellow card for Denmark, this one coming Jensen's way after a clumsy tackle. Denmark are looking a little ragged, and will need to wrestle their focus back under their control. The point is proven when they send the ball mindlessly out of play moments later.
On comes Hannibal Mejbri for Tunisia, who has briefly sparkled at United this season. The young talent replaces Msakni, and Khenissi replaces Jebali.
76 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Jensen is the next to try and cross the ball into goal, but Tunisia lock up in another consistent defensive showing.
Lindstrom collects a good pass from Eriksen running into the box, but has the same success as his team-mate.
Jim White's view from the Education City Stadium
Tunisian supporters as one were up on their feet, slapping their arms after the ball appeared to hit Andersen on the wrist.
74 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Tunisia set up another long range attack, Jebali chasing a long ball into the box, but Schmeichel again springs in to action to keep him from getting to the attempt.
The Tunisia fans are riled up, and in full voice as Tunisia win a corner, but they make very little of it indeed, and possession springs back to Denmark.
72 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Peter Walton thinks there should have been a Var intervention, for whatever that's worth. The arm was in an unnatural position, and it did keep the ball out.
Tunisia may have a right to be incensed.
70 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
This near-miss livens up the Tunisian attack, who set off at a flying run. Denmark keep them out, but they come again.
Then there is uproar for handball! Andersen struggles to keep Abdi at bay, and there is arm contact in the box, but baffling, there's no move to go to Var.
68 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Schmeichel skids out of his goal double-quick as Msakni makes a terrific run, the referee playing the advantage after a halfway-line tussle. Moments later, there's more impressive keeping from Dahmen, after he stretches to save a peach-like strike from Eriksen.
The Manchester United man takes the corner, and Denmark are a mess in the box: they scramble to guide in Andersen's header, but Cornelius can't poke the ball in.
66 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Next to change, Tunisia: Slimane is off for Sliti.
Denmark relaunch their attack, still looking for a promising route through what has been a sturdy Tunisian defence.
64 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Three changes for Denmark, Jensen on for Kjaer, Lindstrom for Skov Olsen, and Cornelius for Dolberg.
Just past the hour mark – rate your standouts
60 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Denmark continue to look strong, running in an attempt which Skov Olsen can't quite get on the end of, the ball flying out for a corner. There's little threat in it, but there's much more here for Danish fans to feast on.
57 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Well, well, well. In defiance of my earlier prediction, Denmark are playing with teeth again, testing Dahmen again with a good-looking cross from Hojbjerg. But Dolberg can only get an imperfect head to it, and the ball skitters out of play.
55 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Drager defends a weak Danish attempt, Tunisia looking the more likely to break the deadlock at present.
Skov Olsen drives down the right, looking for Eriksen, as Denmark flood forward. They can't cleanly profit from an enticing cross into the box, Denmark and Tunisia players fumbling to their own ends, and in the end, it's Skov Olsen with the shot! He finishes nicely, but the flag goes up for offside.
53 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Tunisia get their third successive corner, the weakest of the bunch, but they would do well to capitalise on Denmark's shakiness. They hold on to possession, sending the ball back to Dahmen in goal, establishing their hold on momentum.
51 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Damsgaard is set up by Kjaer, swimming down the left, to play to Mehle. Denmark show off some excellent link-up play, but it comes to nothing, and Denmark are entirely caught off-guard when Tunisia seize possession, Jebali running onto a long ball.
He runs and runs, looking for Slimane to cross to, but under pressure, makes the shot himself, which falters.
Drager is next to go for goal, but his shot is saved out for a corner. Slimane takes the first, which only leads to a second. Denmark defend messily, and Bronn can take his chances. His attempt, too, is defended out for a corner.
49 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Kjaer again sends a long, looping ball to Skov Olsen deep in Tunisia's half, but Tunisia players buzz about Denmark's advance like flies. They win a free kick before Denmark can make it any further, Meriah booting the ball upfield, but Denmark win possession back.
47 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Tunisia blasted out of the starting gates, and Denmark will need to get a quick handle on the start of this half in order to assert their dominance, after a somewhat damp first half showing.
45 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Tunisia get us underway, and immediately enliven the right wing, Drager sending in a well-placed cross looking for Jebali in the box which Denmark scramble to defend.
Second half coming up
Moments from kick-off at the Education City Stadium.
Jim White's half-time analysis
Against one of the best sides in Europe, a team that comfortably beat the world champions France in the Nations League recently, Tunisia have been excellent. They play like many assumed Iran would against England, with defensive nous and solid determination.
But unlike Iran, so far they have delivered. They have clearly studied the principal Danish threat - Christian Eriksen’s set piece delivery – and worked on ways to counter it. They have done it like this: as Eriksen sends over a laser-driven cross to be headed back into the danger area by one of his colleagues, they have smothered all opportunity on the knock down.
And they have had chances themselves on the break. Issam Jebali was unlucky to be ruled offside when he put the ball in the net. And when he broke the Denmark line later in the half he brought a magnificent save from Kasper Schmeichel. The huge – and very vocal – Tunisian support have reasons for optimism for the second half.
Schmeichel's impressive save in action
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) November 22, 2022
Half-time: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Tunisia have certainly held Denmark's feet to the fire in ways that may not have been wholly expected. But, if this morning is anything to go by, there's no writing off the underdog. Tunisia have been feisty, but haven't taken all of their chances. Hjulmand will need greater tightness and focus from his side in the second half.
45+4 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Hojbjerg is felled as a result of clumsy play by Jebali, gifting Denmark a free kick 25 yards out just before the end of the half.
Eriksen steps up to take the free kick, which he curls for a team-mate to get a head on, but it's Meriah who makes contact. Eriksen takes the ensuing corner, which again the Tunisian defence make light work of.
Time overruns, but after a Danish throw-in, the whistle final blows!
45+2 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Tunisia try and launch a threatening break after some early Denmark probing in added time, but it's toothless.
On the bench, Delaney has an ice pack strapped to his knee.
45 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Andersen tumbles, pushed down feistily by Jebali, but the referee keeps the game flowing, as has, happily, been the case throughout this game.
Denmark calls for a substitution, after Delaney goes to ground to make sure the referee sees him. He was involved in a crunching tackle earlier on, and clutches his hamstring. Damsgaard is on.
4 minutes added time, which feels like light relief in this tournament so far.
42 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Another chance for Tunisia, after Jebali breaks, loose in the box. Schmeichel comes off his line and stands tall, the shot glancing off his fingertips! It would have been a lovely chip in, but Schmeichel did well to keep it out.
Tunisia's corner eventually falls to Skhiri, who goes for goal but skies the effort over the cross bar.
40 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Skov Olsen passes the ball to a running Eriksen on the right, but he can't reach it in time, tracked cleverly by the Tunisian defence.
Hojbjerg is next to feed the right, looking for Skov Olsen, who sends the ball in for Eriksen to dummy in the box. Hojbjerg collects it on the edge of the box, but is brought down in a tussle with Laidouni. Nothing more than a goal kick, however, despite Danish cries for a penalty.
38 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Skov Olsen skitters the ball into the box in a promising run, but he's shut down and play flies back into the Danish half as Tunisia threaten for the first time in a little while. Denmark are wrong-footed, and bundle the ball out for a corner, which Slimane takes.
Laidouni has an iffy initial touch, but manages to power the ball at the goal. Schmeichel would have had no chance saving the rocket, had the shot found its intended target.
An update from Jim White
Just off to get my ears seen to. The noise after Slimane put the ball in the Danish net I think shattered my ear drums...
35 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Denmark have been testing Tunisia for a good spell here, who have thrown their players into their own half to combat the Danish press.
Andersen sends in a diagonal ball to the far-side of the box, and Dahmen steps out to gather up the ball.
33 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Eriksen goes to pull Msakni's shirt as he glides through the midfield, but the Tunisian shakes him loose, to set up his team-mates in the box. Denmark sneaks a counter, and it looks like Tunisia may have overextended themselves here.
Denmark has another righthanded corner, which Eriksen winds in. When the ball jumps out to the edge of the box, Dolberg has a shot, but Dahmen drops to collect the ball easily.
31 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Kjaer sends a well-timed ball long to Skov Olsen, which floats up the field. He fiddles his way into the box, and Tunisia defend the ball out for a corner. Eriksen takes it, but Tunisia can clear it to relative safety, to prepare for the next Danish threat.
29 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Tunisia continue to probe down the right, but Denmark shut down their run, gaining territory. Tunisia keep them out, and the ball falls back to Kjaer as Denmark reset.
26 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Just when you thought Denmark where gaining more of a foothold, Tunisia just up the intensity again.
Really excellent start from a side many thought would be outclassed here.
23 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Slimane makes a run in behind the Danish back four and is clean through on goal. He puts a clever finish past Schmeichel and the crowd goes wild....I really mean wild.
They're less happy when they see the assistant's flag raised...
21 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Eriksen whips in a delightful ball from a free-kick on the right and Skhiri is forced to concede a corner. Better from the Danes who are just starting to establish themselves here.
19 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Denmark try to feed the ball into Eriksen in the middle of the park but he's immediately closed down by a rapid Tunisian press.
Maehle then gets away down the left and feeds dangerous cross into the box but Tunisia deal with it well.
Schmeichel playing risky game
15 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Better from the Danes, who work a nice move before getting Dolberg in down the right. a committed block from Ali Abdi wins Tunisia a free kick and is met by raucous cheers from the partisan crowd.
From Jim White, at Education City Stadium
When Christan Eriksen went over to take a corner, he was roundly booed, jeered and whistled at by the very vocal Tunisian support. No sentimentality for them, then...
11 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
The Tunisians are inches away from opening the scoring there. Mohamed Draeger lines up a shot from outside the area before it takes a wicked deflection leaving Kasper Schmeichel in no-man's land.
The keep breaths a sigh of relief as the ball goes inches wide of his right-hand post.
8 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Dolberg puts the squeeze Montassar Talbi as Tunisia look to keep possession. Denmark would have been keen to establish possession high up the pitch but they haven't been able to do that yet.
4 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Tunisia are giving as good they get here and are not allowing Denmark to settle. If you thought they'd be sitting back early here you're very wrong indeed.
2 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Decent start from Denmark, who work an early corner before Aissa Laidouni puts a heavy but clean challenge in on Christian Eriksen.
The Tunisian shouts and beats his chest after the tackle...it's fair to say he's up for this.
1 min: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
Kick off just around the corner
The anthems are out of the way...
'Largely a sea of Tunisian red'
From Jim White, at Education City Stadium
The Education City stadium is a sea of red. Though it has to be said, it is largely a sea of Tunisian red. Tunisians are out-numbering Danes by about five to one. And they are in full voice, chanting "Tui, Tui" which makes them sound as if they are promoting a British package tour operator. Actually, they are very loud indeed. After the Saudi result, they have a sense this could be the day of the underdog.
Here come the teams
They're on their way out at the Education City Stadium...
Sea of red in Al Rayyan
Denmark have qualified for five World Cup before this one, scoring 30 goals in those tournaments.
However, not one of those has come from outside of the box.
You're thinking it. I'm thinking it. Christian Eriksen free kick to break the hoodoo?
Armband row rolls on
FIFA reportedly threatened the Danish FA with a one-game suspension for Simon Kjær if he played with the 'OneLove' armband 🚨#ForDanmark #FIFAWorldCup https://t.co/PYTGXDneTz pic.twitter.com/DXGOVmxMOP
— Danish Football (@DanishFooty365) November 22, 2022
Who are the Tunisian stars?
Premier League fans may be familiar with the name Hannibal Mejbri - the Manchetser United youngster who's currently on loan at Birmingham City.
However the star of the squad is Wahbi Khazri, the Montpellier forward who currently is his country's second top-scorer with 24 goals in 72 appearances.
However, Khazri does not start this one, with captain Youssef Msakni and Issam Jembali set to lead the line.
The viking hoard has landed
The hispters' choice
Denmark are many people's dark horses for the World Cup after a near-perfect qualifying campaign that saw win nine of their ten matches, taking 27 points on the way.
This is a side who have proved themselves more than capable for mixing it with the top teams in the world, reaching the semi-final of Euro 2022 last summer where they fell to England.
Can Christian Eriksen and co fulfill those predictions? They take their first step towards answering that question this afternoon.
Team news - Tunisia
Aymen Dahmen, Ali Abdi, Montassar Talbi, Yassine Meriah, Dylan Bronn, Mohamed Draeger, Aissa Laidouni, Ellyes Skhiri, Anis Ben Slimane, Youssef Msakni (c), Issam Jembali
Team news - Denmark
Kasper Schmeichel, Joakim Andersen, Simon Kjaer (c), Andreas Christensen, Joakim Maehle, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Thomas Delaney, Christian Eriksen, Andreas Skov Olsen, Kasper Dolberg, Rasmus Kristensen
Welcome to Education City
Denmark are widely tipped to be dark horses at this World Cup, which rather raises the question of whether they should be considered dark horses at all.
They reached the semi-finals of Euro 2020, and were one of the stories of the tournament for their dignified response to Christian Eriksen's on-pitch cardiac arrest. Eriksen is now healthy and back on the pitch, bringing class and creativity to a Denmark team with a very solid base. Joachim Andersen, Simon Kjaer and Andreas Christensen are a strong collection of central defenders, while Atalanta's Joakim Maehle is an outstanding wing-back. Eriksen will be assisted in the attacking midfield department by Mikel Damsgaard while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will be a mainstay in the middle of the park.
Denmark start their campaign against Tunisia. A 5-1 drubbing by Brazil in Paris aside, Tunisia's recent performances have been steady and at the 2018 World Cup they held England level until Harry Kane scored in the 91st minute.
Appearing at their sixth finals, Tunisia have never made the knockout stage. Being drawn in a group with Denmark, France and Australia has left them with something of a mountain to climb.
To do so they will have to shackle Eriksen, something few sides in international football have managed to do with any great success.
"He is the rhythm, he is the heart of our team, the pulse of our play. He's a tremendous football player," Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said.
This really is a match Denmark have to take all three points from, with a fixture against the holders France to come. Denmark beat the French twice during their last Nations League campaign, and were drawn together at the group stage of Euro 2000 and the 2002 and 2018 World Cups. Denmark held France to a goalless draw in Russia.
Full team news on the way shortly.