It was Matthew Leckie who scored the decisive goal and claimed the Man of the Match award but the continued stellar form of centre-back Harry Souttar was just as important in Australia’s gutsy win over Denmark.
Just as he did against Tunisia at the weekend, Souttar expertly combined physicality with finesse to help lead Australia to a famous result.
Incredibly, the Scotland-born defender is barely a month back from a return to competitive football after an ACL injury suffered while on national duty last November.
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The 6’6” (198cm) man-mountain, who plays his club football for Stoke in the English Championship, could well be playing himself into a big-money transfer with his performances on the world stage.
Australian coach Graham Arnold certainly thinks the 24-year-old deserves it.
“I just had so much belief in that boy. I know his mentality is so strong,” Arnold said of Souttar after the win over Denmark.
“I tell you what, if I was a Premier League club, I‘d be banging on his door real quick. He’s that good.”
Should Souttar, contracted until 2025, depart Stoke, the club can expect a fee well in excess of the seven million Euros Parma paid Empoli for the services of Mark Bresciano in 2002, or the six million pounds Leeds paid Celtic in 2000 – the highest transfer fees for Australians, both worth around $AU16-18 million when adjusted for inflation.
Souttar’s hopes of a move to a bigger club last year were scuppered by his knee injury but his last 180 minutes (plus about 15 in stoppage time) will surely have teams knocking down the door.
The Socceroos progressed out of the group stage at a World Cup for the just the second time with a 1-0 win over the 10th-ranked Danes, Leckie’s goal meaning Australia went through despite Tunisia claiming an unexpected victory over France.
Denmark started brightly and chances were few and far between for Australia in the first half.
Aussie keeper and captain Mat Ryan wasn’t seriously tested however, as the defence in front of him, led by Souttar and his central defensive partner Kye Rowles kept the favourites largely at bay.
Boasting stars who regularly feature for European powerhouses such as Barcelona and Manchester United, the Danes were left stunned when Leckie capitalised on a counter attack, finding the bottom corner of Kasper Schmeichel’s goal with a left foot strike.
With their future in the tournament at stake, Denmark threw everything at Australia.
They were repelled time and again, by Souttar more often than not.
“It’s incredible. The whole performance today, from back to front, the lads were unbelievable,” Souttar said post-match.
“They had their chances, we had to ride our luck a little bit in the first half, we didn’t really start the game well I don’t think.”
In 2006, the Socceroos suffered a heart-breaking loss to Italy in the round of 16.
This time, they’ll face another football superpower in Argentina at 6am AEDT on Sunday morning.
Forget the other way around, how is Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest player of all time, going to solve the Harry Souttar puzzle.