One Year On | FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022: Australia v Denmark

Triumph over Denmark sees Socceroos through group stage


Plenty of respect

Australia had put themselves in a strong position going into the final group game against Denmark at the Qatar World Cup.

After victory over Tunisia, and Denmark’s defeat to France, a win would see Australia progress to the last 16. So would a draw if Tunisia lost their match to France.

Of course, that was easier said than done as the Denmark side was made up of players from the top leagues in Europe and featured stars like Christian Eriksen, Andreas Christensen and Kaspar Schmeichel.

Socceroos midfielder Jackson Irvine explained that the Australian’s had a lot of respect for their opponents.

“I think if you were to ask most countries in the world who weren't at the World Cup who their second team was or who they were supporting I think after obviously what happened Christian Eriksen, it was Denmark,” he said.

“You could see the way that squad banded together and the way they'd been playing, I think we knew exactly how difficult that game was going to be.”

But Irvine said the feeling in the Socceroos camp was they were ready for the challenge.

“There are not many games in your career where you feel like ‘this is our day, today, and every minute of that game, the longer the game went on, on the pitch I was like ‘this is our day’, we're going to win this game.”

Cagey first half

For the third time, the Socceroos were playing at the Al Janoub Stadium, which this time had 41,232 fans in attendance. And the nation was gripped to television screens at 2am back home. This was the big one.

All those watching though watched a very closely contested first forty-five minutes as both sides were unable to break the deadlock.

Australia did have three shots on target in the half, but all of those were saved with ease by Schmeichel in goal.

Harry Souttar said on the first half: “I think probably it was probably more kind of backs-to-the-wall performance than the Tunisia game.

“They probably started the better side, and we were under the pump a little bit at the start before we grew into the game and had a few little sniffs here and there.”

All in all, change was needed, and Socceroos head coach Graham Arnold was first to react. He brought on Keanu Baccus at half time to replace Craig Goodwin.

Legend status secured

The half time substitution allowed for a change of shape for Australia, one that saw them more defensively solid and utilising counter attacks to disrupt Denmark.

It really didn’t take long for the change of tactics to work, but it did take a hell of a lot of speed and skill from Matthew Leckie.

In the 60th minute, after some sustained Denmark pressure, Australia broke on the counter and Riley McGree played through Leckie who started his run from inside his own half.

Leckie picked the ball up in his stride, carried it to the edge of the box, proceeded to send Joachim Maehle the wrong way, twice, before shooting hard and low into the bottom right corner past the leaping arms of Schmeichel.

It was truly an incredible solo goal that sent Australian fans in the stadium and at home into rapture. And it earned the plaudits from his teammates.

Mitchell Duke said: “It was an unbelievable goal from him, an individual solo goal, turning in and out the defender and then to place it to the bottom corner, leaving the goalkeeper with no chance was just insane.

“We knew the game was going to be about big moments and Leckie just took that big moment and the opportunity for us.”

And Cameron Devlin said it secured Leckie as a legend of Australian football.

“The big moments came up and you know Lecks, well it was a special moment from a legend of Australian football in my opinion and a legend bloke nonetheless.”

To add to the drama, two minutes prior to the goal going in, Tunisia had scored against France, putting Australia’s tournament life at risk.

Craig Goodwin said the bench had just heard the news from that match so when the goal went in, they all went wild.

“It was funny as well, because during probably two minutes before, the bench had just heard that Tunisia had scored against France and were leading,” Goodwin said.

“So, for Leckie to score not long after that, and everyone ran the length of the pitch to celebrate was incredible.”

Time to defend

Just before the goal, Denmark made two attacking substitutions and then nine minutes after they made two more. It was clear they were going all out for an equaliser.

To counter that, in the 74th minute Bailey Wright was subbed on for McGree to add an extra man to the Australian back line.

For the remainder of the match Australia were up against it, with Wright, Souttar, Degenek and Rowles all making important tackles and blocks. Don’t forget Mathew Ryan in net who made a vital save towards the end.

The Socceroos were no stranger to defensive effort though after the Tunisia game and this style of football suited them to the ground as the players were celebrating tackles and blocks like goals.

The six minutes of additional time felt like it went on forever as Devlin made clear. He said: “The last 10 minutes was a terrible, terrible experience because every touch, every pass, every tackle you felt like you were just going through it.”

Full time celebrations

The referee blew the full-time whistle, relieving the nerves of every Australian watching on, and every Socceroo on the pitch.

They had done it. A second ever World Cup clean sheet, this one securing their place in the final 16. The scenes that followed? Well, national pride comes to mind.

“When that full time whistle went it was sinking in that you've just achieved something so big you've dreamt as a little kid obviously to win a World Cup game but to actually get through the group,” Souttar said.

Devlin added: “Everyone was crying everyone and was just beside themselves, and you know that feeling of when the final whistle went and all the belief that we had in him camp throughout the whole time, it was just a just reward for all the boys and that feeling of relief, and we did it, it was unbelievable.”

It truly was a magnificent moment and one that was deserved according to Irvine.

He said: “It just shows what we had to overcome to get out of that group and the sense of achievement then of winning two games in a group stage and two clean sheets was just extraordinary.”

All of the excitement from this momentous achievement was heightened further with the prospect of taking on tournament favourites Argentina in the Round of 16, three days later.

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