For the first time in 12 years, Australia has won a game at the FIFA World Cup after a heroic performance from the Socceroos’ defence.
Off the back of a disappointing performance against France, Australia has bounced back to claim a nail-biting 1-0 victory over Tunisia.
Graham Arnold’s men dictated terms early and capitalised in the 23rd minute when Mitchell Duke scored an exceptional header from a deflected cross to give the Socceroos the lead.
It was a deserved goal for Duke after his deft first-time pass set up the counter-attack and created the space needed to head home the goal.
The goal sent Socceroos faithful into raptures as fans jumped out of their seats in front of TVs around the country, while Melbourne’s Federation Square erupted into pandemonium as Duke’s header found the back of the net.
However, after a dominant opening 25 minutes, Australia let Tunisia back into the game and the Eagles of Carthage began to create opportunities.
This brought Australia’s newest World Cup hero to the forefront: Harry Souttar.
The imposing centre-back helped keep Tunisia scoreless in the first half with a couple of key last-ditch efforts but it was the second stanza when he put in a performance which would have caught the eyes of football clubs across the globe.
The Eagles of Carthage dominated possession and Arnold’s side reacted by setting up a deep backline which meant the Socceroos’ chances dried up.
Tunisia sent in cross after cross into the penalty area, but Souttar and Kye Rowles held firm in the centre of defence.
As every minute passed, Australia seemed closer and closer to conceding and a coveted clean sheet seemed all the more unlikely.
However, as the tension continued to build, Souttar remained calm at the heart of the Socceroos’ defence.
Mathew Ryan and the Australian backline had their work cut out for them and in the 71st minute, they had a brief moment of reprieve as Jamie Maclaren found himself in space on the left wing.
He whipped in a cross towards Mathew Leckie, who was wide open in in the box.
However, despite Leckie’s best efforts, he missed the cross by the barest of margins.
As Tunisia’s assault on Australia’s defence continued, it seemed like the Leckie chance was going to be one that would be looked back on as the moment the clash got away from the Aussies.
However, the Socceroos refused to die and a drought-breaking win grew all the more closer.
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After relentless defending, the game reached its climax in the 86th minute when Rowles was unable to clear an awkward ball and Taha Yassine Khenissi capitalised and found himself in wide-open pastures with just Ryan and the goals in his sights.
As every Australian held their breath in what was destined to be the moment the Socceroos’ efforts would unravel, Souttar again came to his nation’s rescue.
Standing at 198cm, the Stoke City defender had no right to recover, but he did and Souttar made a last-ditch tackle on the edge of the penalty area in a moment which will go down in Australian sporting history.
As the game reached its conclusion, Australia held on to claim a victory for the first time in 12 long years as Tunisia was unable to capitalise on its 14 shots.
Souttar’s tackle sits amongst Tim Cahill’s numerous goals, Harry Kewell’s famous equaliser and Brett Holman’s wondergoal against Serbia as World Cup moments Australian football fans will never forget. The tackle was the moment the new generation of Socceroos’ endeared themselves to Australia and put them on the world stage.
It was the moment which capped off one of the great Australian performances at the World Cup as he finished with three blocks, six clearances, four defensive duels won and failed to commit a foul or be dribbled past.
After Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak retired post the 2018 World Cup, this was the first time Australia entered football’s pinnacle tournament without members from the golden generation and a new group of heroes were needed to stand up.
And stand up they did, as Arnold’s Socceroos achieved a feat the famous golden generation players could not and kept a clean sheet for the first time at the World Cup since its 0-0 draw against Chile in 1974.
In the build up to the tournament, two French players famously said they didn’t know any players from the squad, after tonight’s game, Rowles and Souttar will be household names, while Duke’s goal will be watched in repeat for years to come.
This performance means that Australia will head into the final group stage game with a genuine opportunity of making the Round of 16 for the first time since 2006.
This is a contrast to the last three tournaments, where the Socceroos have been outsiders on Matchday 3. In 2010, Australia had its odds against it after a four-goal demolition against Germany proved costly.
Then, in 2014 Ange Postecoglou’s side was already mathematically out of the contest after it faced one of the toughest groups in recent history, while 2018 saw Australia needing to win and hope other results could go its way – neither of which happened.
The fate is in the Socceroos’ hands when they face Denmark in the early hours of Thursday morning Australia time, with Denmark’s match against France to determine what is required of the Aussies to make it through to the knockout stages.
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