Tunisia 1978: a first African World Cup win
As part of our Saga Africa series, The Africa Report takes a look at
memorable African moments from World Cup history. In 1978 Tunisia made history with their victory over Mexico.
The Eagles of Carthage may have arrived at the 1978 Argentina World Cup as minnows. But with an impressive run of games behind them, they certainly had the wind in their sails. Their marathon qualifying round had seen them defeat Algeria, Guinea, Nigeria, Morocco on penalties and Egypt 4-1.
But the draw gave them a ?tough first round which they failed to get through – against reigning world champions West Germany, Poland (placed third in 1974) and Hugo Sanchez’s Mexico. Nevertheless, Lahzami Temime and his teammates trounced their first opponents, Mexico, 3-1.”That was the first World Cup final match won by an African team,” says Tarek Diab, the ?elegant midfielder who was ultimately voted number 22 on the list of Africa’s top 50 players compiled by the African Confederation of Football.
“We were one goal down at halftime but the chorus of “Tunisia, Tunisia” from the stands really gave us a boost and we were able to turn things around in our favour.”?
Coached since 1975 by the impressive Abdelmajid Chetali – 70 times capped and only one yellow card in his entire career – the Tunisians finally faced defeat in their second match, against Poland. French sports daily L’Equipe wrote: “Poland was pushed to the brink (1-0) by a very impressive Tunisian team.”?
The squad’s last outing on Argentinian soil – against West Germany – was the one everyone expected would show them up as a tiny footballing nation. But Teutonic giants of the game like Sepp Maier, Berti Vogts, Rainer Bonhof and Karl-Heinz Rummenige did no better than give away a goalless draw to the plucky ?Eagles. From the ?sidelines, their coach kept repeating: “Stick together, concentrate, dare, dare, dare!” The mantra has become the motto of Etoile Sportive du Sahel, where Chetali spent most of his career.
Several years ?later, he said: “For me it was all about sharing the fun of the game and having fun myself.” ?Tunisia’s extraordinary performance in 1978 played a key role in FIFA’s decision to move from 16 to 24 teams in 1982, including two from Africa.