Arab teams are making an impact at the first World Cup in the Middle East. Tunisia held European Championship semifinalist Denmark to a 0-0 draw on Tuesday, three hours after Saudi Arabia beat Argentina in a shocking upset.
At an Education City Stadium filled almost entirely with its red-clad supporters, Tunisia likely deserved more but an expert save shortly before halftime by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel helped Denmark preserve the draw.
Having already gone down to the grass after Tunisia broke through the defense, Schmeichel stuck his hand up to deflect a shot from Issam Jebali, who plays his club ball in Denmark for Odense.
It was just the sort of save that the keeper’s father, former Manchester United great Peter Schmeichel, used to pull off.
The match marked Christian Eriksen’s return to a major tournament less than a year and a half after his cardiac arrest with Denmark at Euro 2020.
Denmark thought they should have had a penalty in stoppage time for handball that was checked at the VAR screen by referee Cesar Arturo Ramos, but he instead gave a free kick to Tunisia for a foul in the build-up.
Denmark would have hoped to create more chances in the game, but their best came late in the second half when Cornelius only had to nod the ball over the line at the back post, but instead flicked it onto the woodwork.
Tunisia, who this week had spoken of their pride at qualifying for the World Cup in an Arab country, were fired up from the first whistle, celebrating each tackle like a goal, and had two excellent chances to open the scoring.
The first fell to Denmark-based Issam Jebali when he found himself one-on-one with Kasper Schmeichel. The second saw Aissa Laidouni race clear from his own half, but as he approached the Denmark penalty area, he hesitated and opted for a pass that was not on rather than advancing 10 yards and having an effort on goal.
In the context of the game, both might look at it as two points dropped, but Tunisia will certainly be the happier, given the low level of expectation placed on them – from outside their camp at least – going into the tournament.
They will face Australia next on Saturday, a game they will have targeted as their most winnable in the group, while Denmark meets France behind the points tally they would have set for themselves at this stage.