Well-drilled Australia eases past Tunisia

The Socceroos would be delighted with a goal from Duke as their chances of qualification increase.

As most would expect, this wasn’t a premium World Cup fixture. Between them, in their 33 matches on the game’s greatest stage, these nations have won only four times. They each average less than a goal a game. This is the stale grissini at the start of a banquet.

But Tunisia began the more optimistic of the pair. The Eagles of Carthage held their own against Denmark a few days ago and arrived in Qatar with recent victories over Iran, Chile, and Japan. They are also one of the best-supported sides at the tournament with many locals and neutrals getting behind an Arab contender.

Australia did not enter the World Cup with grand ambitions and those expectations were not revised upwards after a chastening defeat to France. Simply, this is a limited squad, and it showed against such formidable opposition.

But Australia’s World Cup campaign was always going to come down to this contest. If they avoided defeat to a nation ranked only eight places above them on FIFA’s rankings their tournament remains a going concern heading into a do-or-die clash with Denmark. A win today turned that fixture into a belter.

Australia kicked off and tried to pass the ball around at the back but the noise of whistling and jeering is deafening, and soon the Socceroos give the ball away. Every Tunisian touch is then greeted with a cheer like the Eagles of Carthage are 6-0 up in injury time.

But it was Australia’s match from start to finish with relentless pressure and physicality on display. Mooy nipped in to intercept a move through the lines in the early minutes and the passes link into the final third but there’s no ball into the box. Tunisia were yet to settle and their physicality was not impressive.

Lots of headers, lots of hurried clearances, and lots of second balls. It was all very retro for this state-of-the-art tournament. Tunisia were really struggling with Australia’s mid-block press. Until they slipped it with a couple of vertical passes between the lines but Msakni was crowded out inside the box when he looked set to wriggle into a shooting opportunity.

But it was the Australians who would take the lead. They played out from the back, feeding Duke with his back to goal, his delightful touch allows the ball to be sprayed wide to Goodwin and finally a cross finds its target, and it’s that man Duke again to arrive on time to glance a header into the far corner!

Australia were well-organised and committed in the first half, but there was little of any quality to shout about. Tunisia were very poor, seemingly expecting to turn up, throw their weight around, and capitalise on Australian errors. 

The second half would present a slight change for the Tunisians. They had more luck with their balls into the channel this half and after prospering down the left they make a move down the right, winning a handy second ball. A corner results but after playing it short it comes to nought. Tunisia look more assured, more composed, and more threatening.

Tunisia started playing the ball neatly in the middle third with Australia dropping off into a low block. Still the Socceroos find the turnover, Leckie battles hard to retain possession, Irvine carries the ball forward, Goodwin drills a tempting cross along the six-yard box but there’s nobody on hand to finish.

Australia then absorbed Tunisia’s reaction after half-time and settled back into their game. Jalel Kadri needs to shake things up a bit or this result will slide out of his reach. Then again, Australia inches away from a second! Behich does well winning possession then finding Goodwin, who helps the ball onto Maclaren in the channel. His cross flies across the face of goal but the onrushing Leckie can’t execute his slide in time.

Tunisia would have four chances in the closing minutes which were all for naught thanks to Aussie Soutta in defence. Tunisia worked a couple of passes down the left to generate enough space for a cross that Souttar smuggles behind. Khazri whips in a dangerous corner but the Socceroos are committed at the near post. Souttar is there again to snuff out danger with Tunisia punishing a soft turnover in midfield.

Tunisia take an age to feed the ball into the box and when they do Australia have enough bodies to snuff out any danger. Mooy then superbly to cleared, forcing Sassi into accepting a yellow card for a deliberate handball.

In the end this would be just Australia’s third ever win at the World Cup finals. It keeps the Socceroos alive going into the final group game against Denmark and heaps pressure on the Danes who face France later.

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