World Cup recap - Day 11
Day Eleven results
Tunisia 1 - 0 France
Australia 1 - 0 Denmark
Poland 0 - 2 Argentina
Saudi Arabia 1 - 2 Mexico
Well, it’s the morning after the night before for Australian football, and no, we all weren’t dreaming last night, Australia have beaten Denmark to progress to the Round of 16 in the 2022 World Cup.
It was a famous victory for Graham Arnold’s Socceroos, who were the least favourites to progress from their group.
Today, we have an Australian-themed article because, let’s be honest, the other games were good, but the main thing we care about today is the fact the Aussies are through to the Round of 16 in the World Cup for the first time in 16 years and the second time in the 92 years of the tournament’s history.
Here are five things we learned, plus a look ahead to tonight’s games, where four more teams will join Australia in the Round of 16.
Five Things We Learned
Is This the Greatest Achievement in Australian Football?
It will only be the full passage of time that allows us to fully appreciate the magnitude of what the Socceroos achieved this morning.
However, as emotions are running high, I think it’s a legitimate question to ask whether this result is Australia’s greatest football achievement.
The debate will rage in pubs across the country as to whether Australia’s progression to the last 16 of this year’s World Cup sits above the Asian Cup triumph of 2015 or the Round of 16 defeat to Italy at the 2006 World Cup.
Each of these achievements has its merits in being recognised as Australia’s greatest football achievement, but let’s hone in on some of the circumstances surrounding today’s result.
Going into the tournament, it seemed an insurmountable task for Australia to qualify from the group we were in.
Australia was the lowest-ranked team in Group D at this year’s World Cup. Before the tournament, Denmark was ranked in 10th place and France in 3rd place in FIFA’s World Rankings.
France went into this World Cup looking to back up their win of four years ago and take what many see as their rightful place back at the top of the World Football Rankings. Denmark had beaten France twice this year, and so if it wasn’t going to be France that qualified first in Group D, most people would have said Denmark was the only other probable option.
Although France has indeed finished top of the group, not many would have given Australia much of a chance at all to finish second.
In 2006 when the Socceroos last made the Round of 16, it was arguably the most talented squad ever assembled under the banner of an Australian national team. Players like Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Mark Schwarzer are still spoken about today as some of the best players that Australia has ever produced.
So highly held is the regard for the team that lost to eventual winners Italy in 2006 that we refer to that team as Australia’s ‘Golden Generation.’
During that World Cup, players performed at such a level that we still celebrate the performances against Japan and Croatia. But even that team did not manage two World Cup wins in a row and only progressed from the group stage on goal difference with a win and a draw in that year.
This year, though, the Australian squad did not boast the same level of talent as the 2006 squad.
There isn’t one player in this Australian team that’s playing in the English Premier League, seen by many to be the best league around the world, and Australia’s manager has been much maligned throughout the qualification process.
To illustrate the deficit that the Australian team overcame to qualify, according to the popular football transfer website TransferMarkt, the value of every player in the Australian squad added up to £33.4 million.
This is less than the value assigned to a single Danish player, Pierre-Emile Hojberg, rated £42 million on the same website. The value of the top 15 Danish players (so not the whole squad) was £314 million, nearly ten times as much as the Australian team.
This is before looking at Tunisia, who themselves leave the World Cup having beaten France and drawn with Denmark, but because they couldn’t get past the Socceroos, they leave with nothing but the memories.
When added all up together, with what Australia had to work with: players that don’t play in the world’s top leagues and a manager who has failed once already as manager of the national team, I think a case can be made that this is, in fact, the greatest achievement by a team of players in a Socceroos jersey.
Australia Proved a Remarkable Ability to Respond After A Disappointing First 30 Minutes
It was a disappointing opening stanza for the Socceroos against Denmark, as the Danes got on top of the Socceroos early and looked like they would go ahead for much of the first 30 minutes.
Left-back Aziz Behich received a yellow card only four minutes into the game, and you could tell that the caution played on Behich’s mind as he didn’t know whether to defend more conservatively and prioritise avoiding a further chance of a card or play as he would if had he not been cautioned so early in the game.
But the way that Behich responded was emblematic of the rest of the Australian team.
Although it took him a little while to get going, Behich did not commit one more foul and was not dribbled past once for the rest of the game. To be able to do this in the face of an early yellow card is a testament to Behich’s mental fortitude and personal resolve.
Once the Socceroos got into the game, it felt like Denmark may have been vulnerable on the counterattack.
The Danes were able to create several chances themselves, but there were also times coming back the other way when Australia was on the counterattack, and the Socceroos were only a poor first touch away from earning a clear shot on goal.
One felt that if they could clean up their first touch a bit, the Socceroos would be able to create their fair share of chances throughout the game.
This is exactly what Matthew Leckie did when he scored the goal. He was given no support by his teammates and so knew that if his move was to end in a goal, he would need to score it himself.
As Leckie cut onto his right foot, he realised the Danish defender had realised what he was going to do and had prepared for it. This didn’t phase Leckie, who performed a second cutback in quick succession, this time transferring the ball onto his dominant left foot, where he was able to tuck the ball away past Kasper Schmeichel into the Danish net.
It was a wonderful first touch from Leckie, who had multiple chances in the first half but couldn’t control the ball quite as well as he did for his 55th-minute goal.
After Leckie’s goal, it felt as though Denmark became a lot more desperate. The circumstances surrounding potential qualification for both these teams meant that Australia’s goal required two unanswered goals from the Danes in reply if they were to go through to the next stage.
It was not to be for Denmark, though, who, despite an impressive opening half hour of the game, could not break Australia’s defence down and leave this World Cup in the bottom place of Group D.
Australia Had To Do It The Hard Way, But That’s Just What They Did!
It was a tense affair for the first 58 minutes of the game between Australia and Denmark.
Knowing that Tunisia had to overcome reigning champions France if they were any chance of progressing, it was felt that Australia would only require a draw against Denmark to get the result they needed to make it to the Round of 16.
But 58 minutes into Australia’s game against Denmark, disaster struck for the Socceroos. Tunisia scored against France, and Australia now had to beat Denmark to qualify for the knockout stages.
Thank goodness we didn’t have to wait long for Matthew Leckie to break the deadlock against Denmark and again place Australia within the top two of Group D.
It was a decisive goal for the Socceroos as it not only put Australia ahead but meant that Denmark now required two goals of their own if they were to win the game and progress out of the group.
This added tension translated into desperation in the way the Danes went about trying to find the goals they needed.
Balls into the box became longer, and their attacking play became less patient as the Danes threw more and more at the Australian defence but were unable to get past Australia’s ultra-impressive back five.
When the game ended and Australia had indeed progressed to the Round of 16, it added to the drama that Australia had progressed with the added challenges presented by the Tunisian result.
It would have been absolute heartbreak for the Socceroos if they had drawn with Denmark and Tunisia had progressed in their place. But the fact that the Socceroos qualified and the Tunisians head home highlights just how much of an achievement it was by the Socceroos, who finished above the impressive team from North Africa.
Tunisia leaves this World Cup having beaten reigning World Cup winners France and holding 10th-ranked Denmark to a nil-all draw. At the start of the tournament, fans of the Tunisian team would likely have been ecstatic with the results they’ve earned in this World Cup.
But for all of Tunisia’s achievements against some of the World’s best teams, they leave this World Cup essentially empty-handed because they couldn’t get past Australia, who required and then delivered two wins in two games to see them progress out of Group D.
Graham Arnold Will Take His Place In The Upper Echelon of Australian Football Managers
Many people, myself included, have been critical of Graham Arnold during his second stint as Socceroos manager. There was even a suggestion in some parts of the Australian media that Arnold should have lost his job as the Socceroos manager when Australia failed to qualify for the World Cup automatically and was consigned to facing Peru in the playoff qualification.
But since that time, Arnold has managed the Socceroos with aplomb.
Since coming up against Peru, Arnold first made headlines when he substituted captain and first-choice goalkeeper Mat Ryan for the relatively untried and unknown Andrew Redmayne. But it proved to be a stroke of genius, as penalty specialist Redmayne wrote his name into Australian folklore when he kept out three of the Peruvian’s penalty kicks.
Arnold also copped criticism when he left out stalwart Socceroos Trent Sainsbury and Tom Rogic for this World Cup. Many thought that Rogic, in particular, would have been a required player at this World Cup, but Arnold stuck to his guns and has been vindicated with nearly every decision he has made regarding personnel so far.
Jackson Irvine and Aaron Mooy have been solid in midfield, and with Ajdin Hrustic coming off the bench, the Socceroos haven’t missed Rogic this World Cup.
In terms of the central defenders, Sainsbury was seen to be required in the squad due to the relatively little amount of football that Australia’s centre-backs had played leading into the World Cup.
Highlighted by Harry Souttar, who, before the tournament, only managed two full games for his club side Stoke City since returning from a knee injury. Yet Souttar and Rowles have been exemplary since the first game, where Australia struggled against France.
Souttar, in particular, is likely to garner a move to an English Premier League club, such is the quality of his performances during this tournament.
Again, Arnold will feel vindicated for having left out Sainsbury, a decision that not many understood at the time.
Beyond just who he picks, even within games, Arnold seems to be managing the best that he ever has.
Each of Australia’s substitutions he made against Denmark felt they were made at just about the perfect time.
As the game played out, this proved to be true.
Every time Arnold made a substitution, the pattern of the game changed and each change showed the degree to which Arnold enhanced Australia’s position within the game.
Much to the surprise of many, Arnold substituted Craig Goodwin at halftime, instead choosing to deploy Keanu Bacchus down the right-hand side.
It was a move that proved fruitful, with Bacchus providing dangerous attack after dangerous attack throughout the second half.
Even when Australia chose to play more defensively and substituted the attacking Riley McGree off for defender Bailey Wright, the timing felt perfect as Denmark was just starting to get on top of the Australians, and the introduction of another Australian defender quickly thwarted any momentum they had developed.
If Australia somehow gets an unlikely result against Argentina, Arnold will take his place as arguably Australia’s greatest-ever national team manager. This would have been unthinkable even three months ago and is a true testament to the way that Arnold has coached this team to produce the best result Australia has ever managed at a World Cup. Well done, Arnie! I stand corrected.
Where does Matthew Leckie Sit In the Pantheon of Australian Football Greats?
With Matthew Leckie’s goal against Denmark, his first in the World Cup Finals, the question has to be asked, where does Leckie sit in the list of the Socceroos’ best-ever performers?
Leckie has been a mainstay for the Socceroos for the best part of a decade. As long ago as the 2014 World Cup, Leckie terrorised opposition defenders with his pace and creativity down the Australian wing.
On countless occasions, Leckie has stood out as Australia’s standout performer. Leckie has scored goals for Australia since his first in 2013, and against Argentina, he will equal Mark Milligan as having played the third-most games for the Socceroos with 77.
Only Tim Cahill (103) and Lucas Neill (82) will have played more games for Australia when this World Cup has finished, and few have contributed a goal as important as the goal Leckie kicked today.
Leckie was also a crucial part of Australia’s 2015 Asian Cup win, as well as the squads that Australia took to the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. With his first World Cup goal coming at such a crucial time against Denmark, Leckie solidifies his place as one of the best-ever Socceroos.
He may not be right up there with Australia’s best-ever Socceroo, Timmy Cahill. Still, when we look at the past ten years of Australian football, it’s impossible not to think of Matthew Leckie, with his breakneck speed and dangerous right foot tearing up and down the wing.
On Tonight’s Schedule
It feels a bit hollow to look ahead to tonight’s games so soon after the euphoria of this morning’s result, but we may as well look ahead to who will join Australia in the Round of 16.
2am AEDT - CROATIA v BELGIUM
It’s the last chance for these teams at this year’s World Cup as they faceoff in this do-or-die clash. The match will see at least one of these teams progress to the Round of 16.
Croatia currently sits at the top of Group F with one win and one draw. A win against Belgium will ensure the top spot in the group and a first knockout match against likely opponents Germany.
Belgium, on the other hand, will be looking to rescue their World Cup with a win after they suffered a shock 2 - 0 defeat at the hands of Morocco.
It will be the last chance that this team of Belgium players, seen as Belgium’s Golden Generation, has a chance to win a major tournament for some time, and that chance may have already passed.
This week, we have seen Belgian superstar Kevin De Bruyne criticise the decision to pick some of his teammates by saying that Belgium’s defenders are “too old.”
The Belgians will want to improve their team unity soon if they have any chance of progressing through to the next stage of this World Cup.
In time, this Croatian team might need a top-quality striker to better balance of their squad. However, their midfield will still likely cause many problems for Belgium, who will be buoyed by the likely return of their top striker Romelu Lukaku to the starting XI.
It remains to be seen whether Belgium’s last game was more of a speed bump or whether it’s symbolic of a deeper decline in the standard of football played by the world’s second-ranked side.
2am AEDT - CANADA v MOROCCO
Canada has already been eliminated from this year’s World Cup and does not have a chance to get through to the Round of 16.
It’s bitterly disappointing for the Canadians, who made their first World Cup appearance since 1986 and just their second overall when they lined up in Qatar.
It now leaves the Canadians without a win in their only five World Cup games. They will be fired up to get the monkey off the back, so to speak, and record their first win when they come up against Morocco in their final game.
Morocco will have no time for sentimentality, though, as they will be looking to qualify for the knockout stages at a World Cup for just the second time in their nation's history if they beat Canada in the final game for Group F.
If Morocco wins, they will automatically be through to the Round of 16, where they will face likely opponents Spain or Germany. The Moroccans can still draw and progress, however, if the result of the other game goes their way.
They will want to take the result beyond doubt, though, and the only way to do that is with a win against Canada.
6am - AEDT - JAPAN v SPAIN
Japan will not want to let this opportunity to qualify for the knockout stages slip away after they recorded a famous come-from-behind victory against Germany in their opening game.
That is the proposition that Japan faces if they are unable to get at least a draw against Spain and Germany beat Costa Rica.
It will be a massive blow for the Japanese, whose upset victory against Germany has been one of the stories of the tournament so far.
But qualifying from Group E was always a tricky prospect for Japan after they were drawn against European powerhouses Spain and Germany in what many described as the Group of Death at this year’s World Cup.
If Japan can indeed qualify, it will be a huge achievement for Japan, obviously, but furthermore, it will also be a significant milestone for the Asian Football Confederation if they see one of their teams qualify from such a difficult group.
Standing in the way of the Japanese will be an impressive Spain side who have been one of the better performers so far in this World Cup.
Spain currently has the biggest win at this year’s World Cup, with a 7 - 0 rout of Costa Rica in their opening game serving as an ominous warning to the rest of the competition.
But Spain will want to make sure they’re on their game against Japan. A defeat to the Japanese, if it coincides with either Germany or Costa Rica winning the other game, would see Spain unceremoniously exited from this year’s World Cup.
It would be a stunning turn of events if it were to happen. Spain’s dominance in their first game set them up perfectly in this World Cup, and if they were to fail to progress from the group stages, it would be an incredible result.
Group E is already shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested groups at this year’s World Cup, but there is still a lot yet to play out when these two teams take to the field tomorrow morning.
6am AEDT - Costa Rica v GERMANY
The other game that will close off Group E, as well as the day’s proceedings, will be the match between Germany and Costa Rica.
There are a huge number of permutations that could still play out in Group E, and so the main thing that’s worth noting is that both these sides will want to register a win to give themselves the best chance of qualifying.
If Costa Rica wins, they will automatically go through to the Round of 16, where they will face either Croatia, Morocco or Belgium.
If Germany wins this game, they will still be relying on the result of the Spain vs Japan game to go their way.
If the results of this World Cup are anything to go by, then these games are likely to be dramatic and unpredictable. If anything, you would almost expect there to be a shock result based on how this World Cup has played out so far.
Enjoy tonight’s games, and GO THE SOCCEROOS!