When France meets Tunisia in Group D’s final game at the Qatar World Cup, it will be only the second time the teams have met in a competitive match.
The first and only previous encounter was in October 1971 – just over 51 years ago – when an Ezzedine Chakroun doppelgänger won the Eagles of Carthage 2-1 in the group stage of the Mediterranean Games in Izmir, Turkey.
Four friendlies have since followed, but the November 30 game will be by far the most at stake – and a fiery atmosphere is expected.
Tunisia supporters clashed with English fans during the 1998 World Cup and racially insulted Brazilian forward Richarlison during a tournament warm-up in September, as fan violence and field invasions mount in France.
Below, Sports post previews the upcoming clash and looks at why there could be so much animosity between the fans in Al-Rayyan.
Jalel Kadri’s Tunisia takes on their former colonial rulers France in Qatar World Cup Group D
The November duel will be the second competitive match between the sides in their history
A complicated history
Like many other European countries – including England – France had a sizeable colonial presence in Africa. Much of their presence there was unwelcome, and in the 1950s and 1960s, North African countries revolted against their occupiers.
Although the Algerian War between Algeria and France was much bloodier and more brutal, Tunisians waged armed resistance against the French, led by the pro-independence party Neo Destour, and attacked colonial facilities.
As a result, then French Prime Minister Pierre Mendes began to withdraw France from Tunisia, with the country gaining independence in March 1956 and the occupying forces finally removing its army completely in 1963.
The legacy of French colonialism in North Africa has had complicated financial, social and cultural repercussions – one of which has been the contradiction between countries in a sporting context.
Given Tunisia’s French colonial history, a fiery atmosphere can be expected in the stands
France and Tunisia met in a friendly match in Rades in preparation for the 2010 World Cup
Various French lace
Remnants of France’s colonial empire can be seen in the diversity of their population in general and in their national football team.
Legends like Patrick Vieira (Senegal), Zinedine Zidane (Algeria) and Marcel Desailly (Ghana) have heritage from other countries.
Current players Karim Benzema (Algeria), Kingsley Coman (Guadeloupe), Paul Pogba (Guinea), N’Golo Kante (Mali), Eduardo Camavinga (DR Congo), Kylian Mbappe (Cameroon), Raphael Varane (Martinique), William Saliba ( Lebanon), Matteo Guendouzi (Morocco) and Jules Koude (Benin) all have family roots abroad as well.
While France is far from the only country to benefit from mass immigration from their colonies, this has sometimes led to frustration from, for example, African countries that often lose top talent to their former occupiers.
And can you imagine the scenes when Monaco striker Wissam Ben Yedder, of Tunisian descent, scores for France against the Eagles of Carthage?
France’s Wissam Ben Yedder, of Tunisian descent, could be lining up to play against Tunisia in Qatar
France’s 2001 friendly against Algeria – the only meeting of the sides in 35 years – had to be canceled after 77 minutes when fans stormed the field as brawls broke out in the stands. Then riots broke out in the capital Paris.
More recently, in 2019, 282 people were arrested in France over unrest after Algeria reached the Africa Cup of Nations final, which saw dozens of cars set on fire in Lyon.
Both incidents concern Algeria, not Tunisia, but they do illustrate how emotions and mounting tensions can affect football matches between France and a former North African colony.
Previously, Tunisian fans in Marseille clashed with their English counterparts in the lead up to their 1998 World Cup group stage match in France, with 32 injured in a day of rioting and violence after English supporters set a Tunisian flag on fire.
Possibly more concerning than the historical aspect is the recent history of fan issues from both sides.
Tunisian supporters insulted and threw a banana at Brazilian forward Richarlison (right) during a recent World Cup warm-up – a repeat at the Qatar tournament would be extremely uplifting
They also clashed with England fans ahead of the Three Lions’ 2-0 win at the 1998 World Cup
Tunisian supporters spat out shameful racist insults and threw a banana at Brazilian Richarlison when the Tottenham attacker scored a goal in front of him in a World Cup friendly on September 30, which Brazil eventually won 5-1.
Pundit Rio Ferdinand, Chelsea striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Brazilian captain Thiago Silva spoke out against the perpetrators. Spurs and the Premier League condemned the ‘disgusting’ actions and FIFA launched an investigation.
The chaotic friendly also saw Tunisian Dylan Bronn sent off for a bad tackle on Neymar, and lasers pointed at players. And that was just a friendly one.
In a match that could decide who advances to the knockout stage, there could be real problems.
Also in the French Ligue 1 the public has recently run into more trouble. Last season, Marseille’s Dimitri Payet and Valentin Rongier were beaten with bottles thrown by fans and nine top matches were disrupted or canceled as early as November.
Rockets thrown, buses carrying opposition supporters ambushed, stormed the field… it would be extremely uplifting to see that in Qatar.
England supporters sparked tensions in Marseille by burning a Tunisian flag (pictured)
There are concerns that Tunisian fans will clash with their French counterparts as they did in England
Focus on football?
That said, there is hope that concerns about fan clashes will simply fade in the Qatari skies.
The game is on neutral ground and by the time of the game France may have already qualified and Tunisia may already have been eliminated, making it a potentially dead rubber.
The African side’s main football rivals are Algeria, Morocco and Egypt rather than France, with six of the most recent Tunisian roster playing in France.
Limited alcohol consumption can also help to avoid existing tensions.
Whatever happens, hopefully the focus will be on the football and there will be a great atmosphere – but nothing more.