DOHA: For almost an hour, Australia thought a draw would be enough – but when Tunisia went ahead after 58 minutes against a second-string France team, everything changed.
You could see Graham Arnold being given the news in the dugout – suddenly, he knew that his team needed a goal.
Less than two minutes later, Mat Leckie obliged.
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With the Danes pushing high up the field, Riley McGree’s through ball put the Melbourne City star into acres of space, albeit with defender Joakim Maehle s still to deal with.
Leckie scores brilliant opener
Leckie twisted and turned until he could shake his man long enough to roll a left-footed finish into the corner of Kasper Schmeichel’s net, as the Green and Gold Army erupted.
“He had no right to score, and I said that to him just then,” Leckie’s club teammate Jamie Maclaren told reporters afterwards.
“He had two defenders, no right to put it in the back of the net – but we did our work before the game of how you can score goals, and we knew that they were going to push at some point to try and get a goal, and when you’ve got the pace and experience and nous that Lecks has got…fantastic goal, and you could see the way we’ve celebrated.”
It was a far cry from the atmosphere of the Tunisia game, with the tens of thousands of North African fans replaced by a handful of Danes, and a lot of empty seats.
Such was the crowd noise you could hear the players at times – but certainly not when Leckie’s finish found the net, and you would have thought that every single person of the 41,232 in attendance were from Australia.
A France goal would have calmed the nerves, well and truly – but it didn’t come. The Danes, perhaps aware of the fact that even a draw was useless to them, didn’t provide too much firepower in the dying stages, save for one shot that was blocked by a sliding Harry Souttar.
In all, the world’s tenth-ranked team struggled to create much more than half chances, with Mat Ryan forced into one sharp save in the first half, but that was about it.
The news of six minutes of stoppage time was met with a loud groan from the Australian fans, but even then, there wasn’t much to worry about as Graham Arnold’s team calmly saw the game out.
This is now, no matter what, Australia’s best World Cup. It’s the first time they’ve won multiple games, the first time they’ve scored in all three group matches, and it equals their best-ever finish, the round of 16 in 2006.
Can they go further than the legendary crop? We’ll find out in a few days, and as fate would have it, that game will be at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.
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