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   June 10, 2002 | 1630 IST


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Tunisia hold Belgium to open group

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Stephen Wood

Tunisia found an unlikely World Cup lifeline and plunged Belgium into trouble as the north Africans came from behind to earn a deserved 1-1 draw in their group H clash on Monday.

Another defeat would have eliminated Tunisia but, playing with a new-found panache and spirit, they impressed throughout and were rewarded by Raouf Bouzaiane's 17th-minute equaliser.

Bouzaiane curled home a marvellous free-kick just four minutes after Belgium captain Marc Wilmots had given his side the lead.

Belgium goalkeeper Geert de Vlieger watches the ball sail into the net from a free-kick taken by Raouf Bouzaiene. Belgium were left to settle for their fifth World Cup finals draw in succession and, after their poor performance, they must now secure victory against Russia in their last group game on Friday to stand any hope of progressing to the second round.


Tunisia also have to win their last group match, against Japan on Friday, while improving their goal difference at the same time -- but the players rescued a great deal of pride from this performance and will still hope to reach the last 16 for the first time.

Japan, the co-hosts, lead the section with four points. Russia are second with three, followed by Belgium -- who drew 2-2 with Japan in their opener -- with two and Tunisia, who lost their opening game 2-0 to Russia, on one.

Wilmots wasted little time in underlining his importance to Belgium's cause when the midfielder -- playing as a makeshift forward -- pounced on a 13th minute knock down from Branko Strupar to sweep his side into the lead from close range.

It should have ushered in a period of dominance for the European team, but with Tunisia's Hassen Gabsi and Slim Ben Achour linking well with lone frontman Ziad Jaziri, Belgium relinquished the initiative.

Just four minutes later, Bouzaiane stepped up to curl his left-footed free kick past Belgium keeper Geert de Vlieger from 25 metres.

That came just moments after Khaled Badra had seen his long range strike ruled out for the infringement which led to Bouzaiane's free-kick.

Belgium coach Robert Waseige's disgust was evident in his halftime changes, for he introduced 2001 Belgian player of the year Wesley Sonck and Sven Vermant.

But Tunisia again began brightly in the second period, with Kais Ghodhbane fizzing a 20-metre volley narrowly wide.

Sonck should have connected with a Yves Vanderhaeghe cross after 56 minutes and Wilmots was denied by the legs of goalkeeper Ali Boumnijel as Tunisia tired, but Belgium were denied and are still waiting for their first World Cup finals victory since the 1994 tournament.

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