Little at stake for Panama, Tunisia

Little at stake for Panama, Tunisia

Panama's Felipe Baloy during a training session. REUTERS

 Panama and Tunisia have been the fall-guys in the two top-scoring matches of World Cup 2018, but both teams will hope to show they have learnt some lessons from their efforts in Russia before they head home after their Group G match on Thursday.

Tunisia, ranked 21st in the world and representing the Arab world as well as Africa, are probably more anxious to salvage some pride from the campaign. Panama, making their debut in the tournament, at times have seemed happy enough just to be here.

This will be the first time the two nations have faced each other and a robust game can be expected, with both sides prone to indulge in wrestling bouts in defence.

The North Africans played well enough in their opening game against a stuttering England, going down 2-1 to a late Harry Kane goal, but they then got thumped 5-2 by a rampant Belgium.

Making their fifth appearance in the World Cup, Tunisia have yet to get beyond the group stage, but securing third place in the group would be a shred of compensation.

After the Belgium match, Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul said Arab soccer still had a lot of catching up to do to present a challenge at the highest level. Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Egypt all failed to move to the next stage in Russia.

Maaloul said. "We need two more generations to reach (the top) level of performance in terms of fitness and physical strength. We are far from the required level," Maaloul said.

"The level was too high, too elevated over the two games," Khazri said.

Panama, overwhelmed in their first match 3-0 by Belgium in Sochi then 6-1 to an England team hitting its stride in Nizhny Novgorod, have a lot to improve.  Coach Hernan Dario Gomez said the country, ranked 55th by FIFA, had learned some harsh lessons and should use the baptism of fire as a foundation for improvement.