The best kind of hangovers are when you can ignore your sore head because the night before was worth it. Few Aussies will argue against that after the euphoria of Saturday’s 1-0 win over Tunisia.
It was the Socceroos’ first World Cup win since 2010. It was the Socceroos’ third ever World Cup win. It was the Socceroos’ first World Cup clean sheet since 1974.
It was a gutsy and bold performance. For all the team’s limitations, that was what we want the Socceroos to be. It’s hard not to feel immense pride this Sunday, alongside that lingering euphoria.
Where do I start? Honestly, there was so much to like. Mitch Duke’s finessed header for the winner was spectacular, but there was so much more to it. There was his own deft flick to Riley McGree in midfield to initiate the play, followed by a desperate run to get into the box and on the end of Craig Goodwin’s deflected left-wing cross. It was a beautiful moment, made more beautiful by Duke’s celebration for his six-year-old son Jaxson.
The goal marked an excellent first half from Australia where tactically Graham Arnold got plenty right. We were winning the midfield battle and worrying the Tunisians, as well as their obstreperous fans. We got the reward for that dominance and then played a different game in the second half, allowing Tunisia more possession but still controlling the game to an extent. It wasn’t a dour backs-against-the-wall second half as we still got on the ball and showed adventure. Perhaps Jamie Maclaren should have found Mathew Leckie for a second goal with a better weighted pass, but that showed we were still ambitious. That boldness is what the public love.
Harry Souttar’s performance ensured his name will pop up in plenty of January transfer rumour stories having announced himself on the world stage after 12 months out with an ACL injury. The 198cm defender was heroic and assured in defence, coming up with several key blocks and tackles.
The experienced heads were crucial. Mat Ryan felt the final runner in a relay race, launching himself aerially numerous times in the final 10 minutes to calm the nerves, while Leckie was tireless getting up and down his flank and Mooy was composed and critical to that midfield battle. Jackson Irvine was dogged too and offered the physicality we needed.
Harry Souttar’s game by numbers vs. Tunisia:
100% tackles won
100% ground duels won
5 long balls completed
2/3 aerial duels won
1 last man tackle
Rock at the back. 🪨 pic.twitter.com/DU1k3EFgIy
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) November 26, 2022
It’s hard to find too many bad or ugly aspects of Saturday’s win but for the sake of maintaining the structure of this yarn, we’ll point to Kye Rowles’ miscontrol in the 86th minute offering up a golden opportunity to substitute Taha Khenissi.
It was a moment Rowles will want to forget, getting himself in a mess as he went to control an errant high ball under minimal pressure, letting it bounce and up into his head before stumbling over. But I don’t want to pile on him for that, as that error led to one of the moments of the match; Souttar’s brilliant tackle that’s already got the Titanic music treatment on social media.
For a bloke who’s almost two-metres tall, Souttar showed great pace and agility to chase down Khenissi but also the determination to win the ball, plus the all-important timing.
The worst thing all evening was probably the incessant whistling from Tunisian fans directed at Australia players every time we touched the ball. But in the aftermath of glory, that’s easily forgotten and laughed off.
The question mark at right-back still lingers as Fran Karacic filled in for the injured Nathaniel Atkinson. And while Karacic didn’t fill you with confidence, he seemed more capable than Atkinson, albeit against a lesser opponent. That position remains a dilemma for Arnold ahead of Wednesday’s crunch clash with 10th-ranked Denmark (who possess Euro 2020 sensation Mikkel Damsgaard on the left) which will decide our fate. Destiny is in our own hands!
Good morning, Australia 😎
— Socceroos (@Socceroos) November 26, 2022