Asia FIFA World Cup

Leckie Sends Australia to Knockout Dreamland

With Qatar, Iran, and Saudi Arabia all failing to qualify into the World Cup knockouts, Asia finally have themselves a representative in the round of 16 after Australia managed to edge out Denmark 1-0 at the Al-Janoub Stadium on Wednesday. Mathew Leckie was the hero for the Socceroos as the Melbourne City man scored the match’s winning goal in the 60th minute, ensuring Australia their first appearance in the World Cup knockouts since 2006 as Group D runners-up.

With defending world champions France already sealing qualification out of Group D, the group’s other knockout ticket was contested between Australia, Tunisia, and Denmark.

Denmark themselves came into the World Cup with high hopes. Being touted as the dark horses of the tournament thanks to their strong performances in Euro 2020 and the World Cup qualifiers, many expected Denmark to qualify alongside France out of Group D and hopefully go far in the tournament.

The Danes, however, were disappointing in their outing in Qatar so far, drawing 0-0 with Tunisia before losing 2-1 to France.

And it was Australia – who managed to bounce back from their 4-1 defeat at the hands of France with a gritty 1-0 win over Tunisia – who nailed the final nail in Denmark’s coffin, sending the “potential dark horses” home with only one point to their name.

With a squad packed with A-League Men players dashed with stars from the English Football League and the Scottish Premiership, the Australia class of 2022 looked miles behind their star-studded counterparts of 2006 that included such “sokkah” legends in Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Tim Cahill, and Mark Schwarzer. But determination-wise, this current crop of Australian talent could rival their more illustrious seniors.

Starting their final group stage match second in Group D and only needing a draw to progress alongside France, Australia ran the game at their tempo and used Denmark’s profligacy to their advantage, with Brentford’s Mathias Jensen drawing an acrobatic save from Australian captain Mat Ryan being the closest the Danes had came to scoring.

But as news filtered that former Sunderland player Wahbi Khazri had given Tunisia a shock lead over France in the 58th minute, Leckie decided that the time was right for him to spring into action.

Kasper Dolberg lost the ball deep within Australian territory, prompting the Socceroos to hit Denmark on the counter. Riley McGree managed to pass the ball towards Leckie, who was confidently darting down the Danish defense, with the Melbourne City winger keeping his calm to nutmeg Joakim Maehle before slotting the ball home into Kaspar Schmeichel’s goal.

With Australia once again holding the advantage over Tunisia in the Group D standings, the Socceroos sat back and soaked up the pressure, with Ryan playing a vital role in keeping a clean-sheet after a nervous six minutes’ worth of injury time.

In the end Australia managed to defend their lead and claim all three points, which means that both Tunisia and Denmark were sent packing from Qatar as Australia accompanied France into the round of 16.

Group D winners France will take on Group C runners-up Poland, while Australia have the daunting task of taking on Lionel Messi and his Argentina side in their round of 16 tie.