We’re through! It’s hard to believe and it’s barely sunk in, but those words are true. We are through. It doesn’t get any easier, though, with Lionel Messi’s Argentina next in the last 16.
For now, it’s important we enjoy this moment. Australia’s 1-0 win over Denmark was a true glory. We were good value for the win, with the Euro 2020 semi-finalists appearing out of ideas in the final 10 minutes.
We achieved it amid the last-gasp VAR controversy in the other group game, which could’ve left us all with the sourest of sour tastes in our mouths.
Instead, we completed the mission on our terms. For that, Graham Arnold and this generation of Socceroos will forever go down in history.
Another clean sheet. It’s crazy to think until Saturday’s 1-0 win over Tunisia, we hadn’t kept a World Cup clean sheet since 1974. After the 4-1 loss to France, we’d actually conceded 24 goals in our past 10 World Cup games.
In that context, it’s incredible to think now we’ve kept back-to-back World Cup clean sheets. Like all successful teams, our defensive solidity has been the backbone to success. That’s something that has felt amiss with this team for the past decade. Harry Souttar has been herculean. His story, having only just returned from 12 months out with an ACL injury, is one of the best tales of this World Cup.
Mat Ryan has silenced the doubters questioning his lack of club minutes with several assured displays. His aerial work late in games has been massively settling. Kye Rowles hasn’t set the world on fire but he’s barely put a foot wrong which is what we’ve needed. His rise over the past nine months is another great story.
Jackson Irvine had a tough first 45 minutes against the Danes and Christian Eriksen but half-time substitute Keanu Baccus took up his role with tenacity and will, showcasing further depth we didn’t know we had.
And then there’s Mathew Leckie, who had been the quiet achiever of this World Cup until his game-winning goal, which firmly has made him a household name across Australia. The Melbourne City veteran summed up his opportunity quickly, realizing he was isolated and taking on and executing his only option with aplomb. His touch this tournament has been a cut above and that left-foot finish was inch-perfect.
Riley McGree, who fed Leckie the pass, has really come of age this tournament too, when many feared the absence of Tom Rogic and injury issues of Ajdin Hrustic would rob us of any midfield creativity or spark.
— Socceroos (@Socceroos) December 1, 2022
Referee Mustapha Ghorbal could have forever been known as a villain by Australians when he inexplicably awarded Denmark a penalty after a minor tussle in the box between Souttar and substitute Kasper Dolberg. Thankfully, Dolberg was offside, so it didn’t matter.
But scrutinizing the replay, it appeared the softest of soft penalty decisions if it had have stood, at a stretch potentially paid for Souttar’s flailing elbow.
FIFA has told referees to crack down on defenders holding or jostling attackers from free-kicks or crosses, especially when their eyes aren’t on the ball or play, but Souttar’s eyes were firmly always on the crosser. Controversy avoided.
Similarly, New Zealand referee Matthew Conger may have become an Australian nemesis had his decision to cancel Antoine Griezmann’s late equalizer for France against Tunisia mattered in the grand scheme (Tunisia would’ve leapfrogged us with the win, if we’d drawn).
That decision was complex and highly subjective, relating to whether Tunisian defender Montassar Talbi had a “deliberate play” on the cross, which would’ve reset the phase, allowing Griezmann to get onside, having been offside from the initial Aurelien Tchouameni.
If Australia’s World Cup fate had have come down to this subjective decision, things definitely would have got ugly. Thankfully, it didn’t matter! We’re through.