Tunisia held European Championship semifinalist Denmark to a 0-0 draw Tuesday, three hours after Saudi Arabia beat Argentina in a shocking upset.
Before a stadium filled almost entirely with its red-clad supporters, Tunisia likely deserved more but an expert save shortly before halftime by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel helped Denmark preserve the draw.
Interestingly, Denmark had never faced a defeat against an African opposition at the FIFA World Cup ever. On the other hand, this is the first time that both teams faced each other in the mega event.
Having already gone down to the grass after Tunisia broke through the defense, Schmeichel stuck his hand up to deflect a shot from Issam Jebali, who plays his club ball in Denmark for Odense.
It was just the sort of save that the keeper's father, former Manchester United great Peter Schmeichel, used to pull off.
The match marked Christian Eriksen's return to a major tournament less than a year and a half after his cardiac arrest with Denmark at Euro 2020.
Assuming his customary playmaker position, Eriksen produced a dangerous long-distance shot on goal in the second half that Tunisia goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen had to bat away.
And on the ensuing corner, Denmark hit the post.
Tunisia also survived the chance of a last-minute penalty for Denmark but the referee ruled to play on after a video review for a possible handball.
Denmark has been one of the most outspoken critics of the tournament in Qatar and during the pre-match warmup, its players wore all-black long-sleeve shirts over their red game jerseys to mourn migrant workers who died building infrastructure for soccer's biggest event.
Denmark was also planning on wearing the "One Love" anti-discrimination armband along with other European teams before the campaign was dropped when FIFA threatened to hand out yellow cards.
Denmark has lofty goals following its performance at last year's Euro 2020 and a near-perfect qualifying campaign, while Tunisia is seeking to advance from the group stage for the first time in its sixth World Cup appearance.
Many spectators waving Palestinian flags also supported Tunisia.
Tunisia midfielder Aïssa Laïdouni set the tone in the very first minute when he stripped Eriksen of the ball with an aggressive sliding tackle — then stood up and pumped his arms menacingly, gesturing to the crowd to get even more fired up.
In the end, both teams produced 13 shots.
In the edition, 32 teams divided into eight groups will compete against each other for the prestigious trophy. There are 64 matches scheduled for the mega event across eight stadiums in Qatar. It is the first time that the World Cup is scheduled to take place outside the June-July window.
(Inputs from PTI)