“It’s amazing what (Saudi Arabia) did,” Tunisia defender Montassar Talbi said. “We watched a bit of the game in the dressing room. We saw the results. It gave us maybe a little power. We are proud of them. For the Arab countries, too.”
Before a stadium filled almost entirely with Tunisia’s red-clad supporters, midfielder Aïssa Laïdouni set the tone in the very first minute when he stripped emblematic Denmark playmaker Christian Eriksen of the ball with an aggressive sliding tackle — then stood up and pumped his arms menacingly, gesturing to the crowd to get even more fired up.
Tunisia also survived the chance of a last-minute penalty for Denmark but the referee ruled to play on after a video review for a possible handball.
Denmark has been one of the most outspoken critics of the tournament in Qatar and during the pre-match warmup its players wore all black long-sleeve shirts over their red game jerseys to mourn migrant workers who died building infrastructure for soccer’s biggest event.
Denmark was also planning on wearing the “One Love” anti-discrimination armband along with other European teams before the campaign was dropped when FIFA threatened to hand out yellow cards.
However, former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who is now chair of the Danish soccer federation’s governance and development committee, was at the stadium wearing a coat with some subtle rainbow coloring.
Denmark has lofty goals following its performance at last year’s Euro 2020 and a near-perfect qualifying campaign, while Tunisia is seeking to advance from the group stage for the first time in its sixth World Cup appearance.
After a lack of atmosphere at several of the opening matches, the huge number of Tunisian fans inside Education City Stadium made it feel like a home match for the North African team. Tunisia fans chanted, banged drums and blew air horns when their squad had the ball — then hissed and whistled loudly whenever Denmark had possession.
Many spectators waving Palestinian flags also supported Tunisia.