France wins Group D despite loss to Tunisia

- Jason Anderson

France didn’t get the expected result against Tunisia, but despite a surprise loss Wednesday they took first place in Group D at the World Cup.

The defending champions, who heavily rotated after entering the day virtually assured of the top spot in the group, stumbled to a 1-0 loss to Tunisia at Education City Stadium.

Didier Deschamps made nine changes to the team that beat Denmark, and Tunisia – needing to win and get help from the game between Australia and Denmark – sensed this was its chance. In the early going, Aïssa Laïdouni’s free kick found Nader Ghandri for an acrobatic finish, only for an offside call to spoil Tunisian celebratio­ns.

France had the bulk of the possession and chances, but Tunisia maintained some danger and took a 58th-minute lead through Wahbi Khazri, who drove right through the heart of the French defense before sneaking a low, bobbling shot past Steve Mandanda.

Meanwhile, over at Al Janoub Stadium, Australia and Denmark both knew it would almost certainly require a result to go through. The Socceroos took up a counteratt­acking posture and like Tunisia defended for long spells as their more-lauded foe had over two-thirds of the possession on the day.

Australia defended stoutly and eventually made a calculated raid forward pay off. Riley McGree moved up the left before slipping a well-weighted pass in behind the Denmark back line.

Mathew Leckie sprinted onto it, but he still had a problem: Joakim Maehle stood between him and goal, and Joachim Andersen wasn’t far behind. Leckie had a solution, cutting inside to his right before going back onto his left foot, spinning Maehle like a top. Leckie used the Atalanta defender as a screen, shooting low past Kasper Schmeichel to give the Socceroos the lead.

The win for Australia is just its fourth World Cup victory, and the Socceroos’ success means they’re through to the knockout round for the second time. It also meant party time in Australia, never mind the fact that the game wrapped up about 4 a.m. for much of the country.

Mexico win not enough

LUSAIL, Qatar – Henry Martin and

Luis Chaves each scored in Mexico’s furious attempt to stay alive at the World Cup, but the 2-1 victory Wednesday over Saudi Arabia was not enough. Because of Argentina’s 2-0 victory over Poland in a simultaneo­us match, Mexico failed to advance out of its group for the first time since 1978. Mexico tried desperatel­y in the final 20 minutes to get another goal – including an effort by Uriel Antuna in the 87th minute that was ruled offside – but came up short.

Tata Martino didn’t wait long after Mexico was eliminated to confirm he is no longer El Tri’s head coach. Following the game, Martino said his time at the helm of El Tri has come to an end. “I am the first responsibl­e for this terrible disappoint­ment and frustratio­n that we have,” he said. “As the person in charge, it causes a lot of sadness, I fully assume responsibi­lity for this great failure. My contract ended as soon as the referee blew the final whistle.”

– Anne M. Peterson, Associated Press, and Vertelney

Thursday group stage games

When Belgium’s “Golden Generation” meets Croatia’s accomplish­ed veterans in a decisive match Thursday, there won’t be much room on the field for younger players. Croatia can secure a Round of 16 spot with a win or a draw, while Belgium needs to win to be sure of advancing. If Canada beats Morocco, it’s possible both Croatia and Belgium will advance.

His nation on the verge of reaching the knockout stage of the World Cup for the first time since 1986, Morocco coach Walid Regragui downplayed his role. Regragui said through a translator: “The players are the ones that make the coach and not the other way around.” Morocco would advance with a victory or a draw against already-eliminated Canada and also could reach with a loss depending on the result of Belgium’s match with Croatia.

After getting a favor from Costa Rica, Germany needs a win against the Central American team to have any chance of reaching the knockout stages.

Spain finds itself with some work left to do against Japan to guarantee its spot in the Round of 16. A draw will be enough, and even a loss may allow the team to advance.

– AP’s Andrew Dampf, Ronald Blum, Ciarán Fahey, Tales Azzoni

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