Australia 1-0 Denmark: Leckie goal sends Socceroos to the knockout stage
Australia advanced to the last 16 of the World Cup after securing a hard-fought 1-0 win over Denmark on Wednesday.
Mathew Leckie's winning goal at Al Janoub Stadium meant Tunisia's shock win against France counted for nothing as Graham Arnold's side went through as Group D runners-up.
The Socceroos qualify for the knockout stage of the World Cup for only a second time from six tournament appearances, having only previously done so in 2006, and will now play the winners of Group C.
It is home time for Kasper Hjulmand's men though, who disappointed after reaching the Euro 2020 semi-finals, and are now winless in their last six World Cup games (D4 L2), since beating Peru in their first game of the 2018 tournament.
It was a strong start from the Danes, who came closest to taking the lead early on when Mathias Jensen ran onto a flick from Martin Braithwaite, only to see his near post shot tipped over the bar by Mat Ryan.
Denmark dominated possession throughout, emphasised by the fact goalkeeper Ryan made (39) and completed (24) more passes than any of his outfield team-mates, but Australia kept their opponents at bay while also threatening on the counter.
That counter-attack threat produced for Australia as they turned defence into attack on the hour-mark as Riley McGree set Leckie away, who turned Danish defenders inside and out before finding the bottom right corner with a low shot past Kasper Schmeichel.
There were nerves for Australia, with the referee awarding a penalty 10 minutes later for a foul on substitute Kasper Dolberg, only for an offside flag to overrule the decision, but Arnold’s men were able to hold on as Denmark ran out of steam and ideas.
What does it mean? Socceroos bounce into knockout stage
It was a gutsy showing from an Australia side few will have fancied against a previously strong-looking Denmark.
After a bright start from their opponents that suggested the entire contest could be attack against defence, Australia held firm and forced their way into the game.
They really ground it out in the first half in particular as they won 59.6 per cent of their duels, and 68.4 per cent of their aerial duels, before going on to win it in the second through Leckie's strike.
Souttar heads his team through
It is one of the most remarkable stories of this World Cup as Australia centre-back Harry Souttar has been a standout player, despite spending most of the last year out injured.
The Stoke City defender came back just before the tournament and after a brilliant showing against Tunisia, he was imperious again here, making nine clearances, five more than anyone else on the pitch, and winning six of his eight aerial duels.
Lacklustre Danes bow out
It has been a strange World Cup from Denmark, who many expected to be a dark horse after their strong showing at last year's rearranged Euro 2020 tournament.
They just could not find their form here though, only hitting the target with three of their 13 shots and creating very little in terms of clear chances despite having 68.8 per cent possession.
Key Opta Stats:
- Australia have won consecutive World Cup matches for the first time.
- Denmark have been eliminated at the group stages of the World Cup for just the second time (also 2010), and this is the first occasion they have lost consecutive group-stage games.
- Australia are the third team to progress from the first round group stage of the World Cup having both lost and conceded 4+ goals in their opening match (Yugoslavia in 1990 and Ukraine in 2006).
- They have also kept a clean sheet in consecutive World Cup matches for the first time after keeping just one clean sheet in their first 17 matches in the competition.
- Leckie scored his 14th goal for Australia in all competitions (first at the World Cup), at least five more than any other player in the Socceroos' World Cup squad.
Australia move on to face the winner of Group C in the round of 16 on Saturday, while Denmark head home.