Tunisia defeated Iraq 3-0 in the All-Arab Showdown at the 2023 U-20 World Cup on Thursday to keep their second-round hopes alive and leave the losers dazed and looking forward to an early elimination.

Despite the result, Iraq dominated most of the game against North Africa but two goals in two minutes early in the second half turned the game in La Plata, Argentina, on its head.

With one round of Group E matches remaining, England, who beat Uruguay 3-2 earlier, have six points from their two matches so far and qualify for the second round. Uruguay and Tunisia, who meet on Sunday, have three points each.

With the top two teams from each of the six groups advancing along with the four best third-placed teams, there is a big chance the young Carthage Eagles can pull it off, especially if they are as tough as they were here.

With zero points and a goal difference of minus seven after losing 4-0 to Uruguay in the opening match, Iraq, who finished fourth in their last appearance in this tournament in 2013, are out.

With both teams losing their opening matches, it was no surprise that the opening stages were wary and cautious. There were three yellow cards by the middle of the first half, more than the number of real attempts on goal.

Iraq started to move on the half hour as Youssef Amine made space for himself on the right side of the area before Dries Arfaoui forced a fine save, first from the 10th. Just two minutes later, the Tunisian ball was in the goal as Sami Chouchane swung in a deep free kick which he volleyed home. Mohamed Derbali hit the net, but he wasn’t the only player who was clearly offside.

The tempo was accelerating when Abdul Qadir Ayoub forced Arfawi’s save with a powerful shot from outside the area, and after 38 minutes the goalkeeper was dropping to his right to deflect another dangerous Iraqi attempt from Haider Abdul Karim. Tunisia was relieved to go into the second half on level terms as the Asian side should have broken the deadlock.

The second half started in the same vein and Iraq came even closer. Arfaoui hit Amin’s violent shot from the right side of the area to the post. It was a good fending off but Iraq started to turn the screw.

However, Tunisia opened the scoring 10 minutes into the first half, with Youssef Senana firing in a low cross from Raed Boucheniba from close range. It was against the run of play and by far their best attack.

Two minutes later, they scored again while the Iraqi defense was sleeping. Derbali’s cross from the right found Haim Djebaili around the penalty kick, who extended his leg to direct the ball into the bottom corner. The men in white, who were in control, were stunned.

He sent hope to Iraq 17 minutes before Tunisian substitute Rayan Nasraoui was sent off for expelling Kazem Raad after the two stumbled. It meant more pressure from Iraq and within seconds, Ghaith Al Wahabi had Ali Jassim’s shot cleared off the line.

With six minutes remaining, Tunisia finished the game as contentious after being awarded a penalty following a foul by Sajjad Mehdi. Mahmoud Ghorbel did not miss his place.

It caps a miserable night for Iraq who know their tournament is almost over as they prepare to face England in the final. Tunisia will be sure of their place in the second round if they defeat Uruguay, and a draw could be enough to qualify as one of the best third-placed teams.

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