One hundred stories heading to Qatar 2022: France-Tunisia, from the whistles to the Marseillaise to the first official duel in a World Cup

The then president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, described what happened with one word: «scandalous». The Sports Minister called for suspending events and applying sanctions. The prime minister questioned the inaction of the French Football Federation. The interior minister launched an investigation and promised arrests.

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A furious whistle, like the one in 2008, about the Marseillaise, the French anthem, is never silent. After the popular expression, politics has to say and do something. Especially if it happens at the Stade de France in Paris, in the run-up to a friendly between France and Tunisia. Now, these teams will be rivals again in Qatar 2022. They will play their first official match in what will be the closing of group D of the World Cup. Its colonial past and that thunderous whistle will be the morbid setting for their reunion.

On October 14, 2008, when that friendly promoted as a match for harmony was played, The third anniversary of what went down in history as the riots in the suburbs of France in 2005 was about to be fulfilled. The death of two young Muslims (Bouna Traoré, the son of Mauritanians, and Zyed Benna, the son of Tunisians) escaping an unjustified police persecution on the outskirts of the capital had unleashed a wave of youth violence throughout the country. The burning of vehicles and clashes between teenagers and police officers went on for days.

When the fire was put out, the French state tried by all means to restore national unityespecially with those dissatisfied young people of colonial origin. Football was one of the tools of brotherhood that was used but the marginalization of that French youth, who did not recognize themselves as such, was too severe to be fixed with a ball.

Before that duel between the French and the Tunisians, and the murders and the riots, that youth had already given several signs of its discomfort. One of them was on a soccer field. October 7 2001, also at the Stade de France, France tried to put an end to years of bloodshed with a friendly against Algeria, the former colony with which it shares the most violent past. Of course the French anthem was whistled but, in addition, the game was suspended after 75 minutesthe Gauls won 4-1, due to a massive invasion of the field. Young people with Algerian flags covered the grass. It was the first and last time that France and Algeria shared a soccer field.

After the deaths of Traoré and Benna, France tried to use football again to unite its people. in November 2007organized a friendly against Moroccoanother of its Maghreb ex-colonies. That was the second time the Marseillaise was whistled at the home of French football, in Paris. The match could be finished, it was a 2-2 draw, but both teams never met again.

stubborn, the French tried once more a year later. The players from France and Tunisia took to the field of play interspersed, and they formed the same way to listen to the national songs. The French anthem was sung by Lââm, a French artist daughter of Tunisians. All, gestures of fraternity that were buried under an endless whistle a la Marseillaise that sprang from the lungs of young French people who lived in those suburbs of Paris and were still dissatisfied with their homeland.

The 2008 postcard, French fans of Tunisian origin whistle La Marseillaise. Getty Images

The fact fueled the debate, still prevalent in French society, on the integration of immigrant families. Jean-Marie Le Pen, always the leader of the extreme right, took the opportunity to express his segregationist discourse. He spoke of «anti-French racism» and stated that «the integration of masses outside our culture is a failure because it is a utopia.» Marie-Georges Buffet, then secretary of the French Communist Party, stressed the need to think of these whistles as an «expression of suffering young people who do not feel well at home.»

The match was played with some normality. Tunisia gave the surprise by taking the lead with a goal from Issam Jemaathe top scorer in the history of the Águilas de Cartago. France turned it around with a brace from Thierry Henry, of Antillean heritage, and sentenced it with a goal from a young Karim Benzema, of Algerian origin. The French anthem was not the only thing whistled that night. Hatem Ben Arfa, from a Tunisian family, played for France in the second half and was booed every time he touched the ball.

That 2008 match against Tunisia was the third whistle for Marseillaise and the charm. The advice given by Bernard Laporte, then Secretary of State for Sport, after the scandal seems to have prevailed. The former rugbier proposed that France stop playing against North African teams in Saint-Denis, a Parisian suburb where humble families and immigrant origin are the majority, and that they only do so as a visitor or far from the capital, in the provinces. Since that day, France has not played in Paris against any of its former colonies.

The French, inventors of liberty, equality and fraternity, colonized Tunisian territory in 1881, after an agreement with the European powers that was ratified at the Berlin Conference of 1884 in which the African continent was divided up. Among all the advances from the West, they brought the football that he had learned from the English.

France controlled the Protectorate of Tunisia until the mid-20th centurybut the influence on Tunisians continues to this day. Soccer was one of the ways the French westernized the local Muslims. The first French-only team, Racing Club, was founded in 1904. Tunisian society embraced the sport of the ball but stuck to its majority religion and language, a version of Arabic that only Tunisians understand.

The first Tunisian football federation was colonial in style. It was created in 1906 and only included French, Italian, Israeli and Maltese teams, the main communities, outside the Muslim majority. The first official match was played on June 9, 1907, but friendly duels were frequent. Religious tensions were as common then as they are now. In 1917, a match to celebrate the end of World War I between Stade Tunisois (of the Jewish community) and Stade Africain (of a Muslim majority) ended in a pitched battle. To return to the spirit of peace, it was decided to merge both clubs into Union Sportive Tunisienne.

The native teams were only able to join the official competition in 1919. That year it was founded, in a café, the most popular club in Tunisia: Espérance Sportive. Respecting current regulations, a Frenchman should have been appointed president. He quickly turned into the team of the Muslim community and a powerful tool for the claim of independence, which finally materialized in 1956.

Football duels between French and Tunisians were much more frequent before that date that after her. Tunisian football was formed with dives against French teams of all kinds, combined military, administrative, regional, etc. The Tunisian National Team has as its first antecedent the local League team that was formed in 1928 to play a friendly against a French B team. The Tunisians fell 9-2 to their colonizers. The duel was repeated in 1930 and 1933. The Europeans won both times, 5-0 and 6-1. The Tunisians had to wait until 1939 to celebrate their first 4-1 win against the Gauls, this time a Parisian side.

The Tunisian team of 1939, the one that achieved the first national victory @ftf_de

Some consider that the first game of the Tunisian National Team was played on March 18, 1956, two days before France accepted its independence. The Eagles, led by a Frenchman, Marc Orsini, beat a group of Frenchmen 1-0. In that Tunisian team was Younes Chetali, former president of the Olympic Committee, glory of Étoile Sportive du Sahel and father of the first idol of Tunisian football: Abdelmajid Chetali.

Another important figure in the common history between France and Tunisia is Roger Lemerre. The DT who failed with the Gauls in the 2002 World Cup is a hero in Tunisia because with that team he was champion of Africa in 2004, the only title of the Eagles of Carthage. The Frenchman was in charge for 6 years, a figure that is still a record in a team used to changing technicians frequently. Under Lemerre’s command, moreover, the tradition of nationalizing French of Tunisian origin began.

The Tunisian is one of the largest communities in France. There are about 770 thousand people, according to data from the French Office for Immigration and Integration (OFII). Close to two-thirds have dual nationality, which facilitates the recruitment process. French football is full of players of Tunisian origin. This Facebook page that follows young Tunisian talent in Ligue 1 can serve as an example.

Although Jalel Kadri, current coach of Tunisia, has been showing a preference for Tunisian soccer players who are in the leagues of the Arab world in these Eagles there are several players born in France. Stand out Wahbi Khazri, a native of Ajaccio; Ellyes Skhiri, from Lunel; Montassar Talbi, from Paris; and Hannibal Mejbri, from Ivry-sur-Seine. In addition, several Tunisians have French nationality and play in the French league. Khazri shone at Saint-Étienne and now plays for Montpellier; Saîf-Eddine Khaoui is in Clermont after passing through Olympique de Marseille (OM); Ali Abdi, is Caen side; Montassar Talbi is in Lorient and Yan Valery in Angers. And others have a past in Ligue 1: Dylan Bronn emerged in Cannes and passed through Metz; Naïm Sliti played for Lille and Dijon; Aissa Laidouni passed through Angers; Ferjani Sassi for Metz; Hamza Rafia trained at Olympique Lyonnais; and Omar Rekik in the OM.

The players who did the reverse path are much less. The Tunisian diaspora in Europe is large, it is estimated that there are more than 1 million people, but the options in the selected countries of the Old Continent are scarce. That is why, when they appear, they are usually taken advantage of by the natives of Tunisia. Wissam Ben Yedder is an emblematic case. Wanted for years by the Tunisian Federation, the striker was called up by Didier Deschamps for Les Bleus three years ago and it would be logical for him to be in Qatar dressed in blue when they face the Tunisians. Before Ben Yedder, the whistled Ben Arfa, whose father had been part of the Carthage Eagles, and Sabri Lamouchi made the same decision to play for France. Sami Khedira did the same but to play for Germany.

Hannibal Mejbri, the young promise of Tunisian football who was born in France and shines in England. Getty Images

In total, France and Tunisia only played four friendly matches before meeting officially for the first time in Qatar 2022. In addition to the 2008 match, which was a victory for the Gauls, they played another match on French soil with a local victory…