Fri, 03 Feb 2023

Socceroos stoked to be preparing for biggest match in 16 years

Independent Australia
29 Nov 2022, 16:52 GMT+10

The Socceroos' magnificent 1-0 victory over Tunisia gives Australia a chance of progressing to the knockout stage of this year's FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Ronny Lerner reports.

AFTER ALL looked lost following their opening game at the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar against France, the Socceroos are now preparing for the country's biggest match in 16 years.

Australia's tournament appeared to have ended before it started when the reigning champions, led by the imperious Kylian Mbappe, hammered them 4-1 last week.

The defeat was bad enough, but while the result was expected, the heavy damage that the Socceroos' precious goal difference incurred threatened to be insurmountable.

However, in a spectacular about-face, Australia lifted itself off the canvas on Saturday night and with a large amount of trademark grit and determination, revived its campaign within the space of 90 minutes as the team scored a magnificent 1-0 victory over Tunisia.

It was just the Socceroos' third World Cup win and their first in 12 years, and in keeping with the tournament theme, it was a memorable upset result.

Sure, it might not have been in the same league as Saudi Arabia's win over Argentina, Japan's triumph against Germany, Costa Rica's defeat of Japan, or Morocco's victory against Belgium, but Australia were the outsiders, especially after Tunisia's fantastic performance in their 0-0 draw with Denmark last week.

Mitchell Duke became the Socceroos' eighth World Cup goalscorer against the "Eagles of Carthage" and his was one of the most skilful goals scored for the green and gold on the world's biggest stage.

In the 23rd minute, he pounced on an awkward deflection and with the deftest and most elegant of touches, gently guided the ball with his head into the side of the net with laser-like precision, giving Tunisian goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen no hope of saving it.

From there, the Aussies held on grimly and led by the magnificent Harry Souttar in defence, as well as veteran midfielder Aaron Mooy, managed to keep the Tunisians at bay.

A few hours later, France turned from Australia's brutal vanquishers to benevolent favour makers as they defeated the Danes 2-1 to ensure the Socceroos headed into their final group match against Denmark on Thursday morning (AEDT) in second spot in Group D.

The top two sides from each of the eight groups make it through to the round of 16.

Australia has found itself in a similar situation to this before - back in 2010, we had to beat Serbia in its final group match to give ourselves a chance of progressing to the knockout stage.

But unlike the World Cup in South Africa 12 years ago, this time around the Socceroos have their destiny in their own hands.

A win against Serbia at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit wasn't going to guarantee Australia back-to-back round-of-16 appearances.

And so it came to pass - the Socceroos beat the Serbs 2-1 but were kept out of the top two by inferior goal difference.

However, this time around it's different. If Australia defeats Denmark, it will assure our passage to the knockout stage of a World Cup for the first time since the famous golden generation did so back in 2006 in Germany.

A draw would also probably be enough for the Aussies, but it wouldn't completely guarantee progression from the group stage because if Tunisia somehow manage to beat France, it would leapfrog both Australia and Denmark into the top two. And worryingly, there are reports that the French - who have already made it through - are thinking of resting a whole clutch of first-choice players.

It means that this game against Denmark at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al-Wakrah is the biggest match for the Socceroos since their heartbreaking last-gasp 1-0 defeat to eventual champions Italy in the round of 16 in Kaiserslautern 16 years ago.

Denmark might only have a point to show for their first two matches at this year's tournament, but make no mistake, they are a force to be reckoned with and are rightfully hot favourites to win.

With the likes of Christian Eriksen, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Joakim Maehle and Kasper Schmeichel in goals, the Danes are dripping with world-class talent.

But if the Socceroos can channel the same energy they brought against Tunisia on the weekend and emerge from their showdown against Denmark with at least one point, they will almost certainly qualify for the FIFA World Cup knockout phase for only the second time in their history.

Ronny Lerner has been a sports and music journalist/editor since 2006. Follow Ronny on Twitter @RonnyLerner.

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