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France-born Wahbi Kharzi revels in his role of representing Tunisia, even if knockouts qualification eventually eludes

Born in Corsica with his father from Tunisia and mother being a French, Khazri played for France’s U-21 team before he decided to play for Tunisia after getting a call-up from the-then Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi.

Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri celebrates scoring his side's opening goal against France during a World Cup group D match at the Education City Stadium. (AP)

As one of the six France-born players in the Tunisian team which started against defending champions France at the Education City stadium on Wednesday evening, 31-year-old Tunisian captain Wahbi Khazri’s solo run to score the winner in the 58th minute against the defending champions fell short of helping the former French colony nation to advance into the knock-outs.

The midfielder, who plies his trade in Ligue 1, France’s top-tier league, was playing in his second World Cup and having scored two goals and two assists in the 2018 edition, was expected to carry the small nation to knockouts this time. A 1-0 Australian win over Denmark meant that Tunisia ended their World Cup campaign but it was Khazri’s goal which was the talk of the football world on Wednesday evening.

“We are happy, we played a good game with the ball and were supportive in defense, a good team game. But there is the disappointment of not being classified, we did not do what was necessary in the first two games. We are happy to show a good face to the Tunisian people, they will be proud of us for the victory against a team like the one we had in front of us. We are happy to beat the champion, we are proud of ourselves, but with a bitter taste, it would have been better if we had qualified,” said Khazri post the match.

Born in Corsica with his father from Tunisia and mother being a French, Khazri played for France’s U-21 team before he decided to play for Tunisia after getting a call-up from the-then Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi. The midfielder played in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations for the Carthage Eagles. “I try to represent Tunisia in France every weekend by performing well. Afterwards, I also have the chance to represent Corsica, because I was born there. I have a lot of flags on my shoulders, it’s nice. When people talk about me, I like to hear, “Wahbi, the Corsican, Wahbi the Tunisian, I find it pleasant to see its origins being put forward. I am 100 percent Tunisian, 100 percent French and 100 percent Corsican. I have no embarrassment about that,” Khazri had told BBC Africa earlier this year.

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Second highest goal scorer

The 31-year-old, who is now Tunisia’s second highest goal scorer with 25 goals since making his debut in 2013, started his professional career with French club Bastia FC. The midfielder played in more than 150 matches for the club from 2009 to 2014 before moving to Bordeaux in 2014.

Teammates congratulate Wahbi Khazri affter he scored his side’s opening goal against France. (AP Photo)

Khazri then played for English Premier League side Sunderland and scored his first Premier league goal against Manchester United in 2016 before he returned again to France to play for Stade Rennais FC. The Tunisian then played for French Club AS St Etienne for four years before joining Montpellier last year and scored 27 goals in 114 matches for the club.Prior to the World Cup, Khazri spoke about how everyone in Tunisia is looking to the team’s clash against France. “Being born in France and playing for Tunisia is special – the two countries are very close and it will be an exciting time. Playing in the French League as well, we know a lot of people are going to be watching and we are going to play against some of the best in the world, like Benzema, Mbappe and Griezmann. Against France, there will be no split loyalties at home because everyone will be 100 percent Tunisian on my side. This is what I wished for in the draw. I hope it goes well for us,” Khazri had told BBC.

Tunisia’s Wahbi Khazri celebrates scoring his side’s opening goal against France during a World Cup group D soccer match at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Apart from playing in five Africa Cup of Nations, Khazri also played in the 2018 World Cup in Russia where he scored a goal each against Belgium and Panama with the win against Panama being the North African side’s second win in World Cup history. Their first win came in the 1978 World Cup – 3-1 against Mexico.

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Khazri is among a select group of Tunisian footballers who have played in two World Cups. He had termed playing in his second World Cup as a special feeling. “Having already played in a World Cup is a source of pride, so playing a second one… In addition, we are in the same group as France, it’s magnificent. For all these years, I have had a lot of fun and I am happy with what I am doing with the selection. There is so much excitement around it. Tunisia is a country of football. Since the revolution in 2011, we feel that people need to experience moments of joy, and football allows them to escape. Knowing that we are the guarantors of this, it is important to give everything,” Khazri had told Ligue 1 website.

First published on: 01-12-2022 at 11:36 IST
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