Copy of 2022-11-26T121221Z_1986734952_UP1EIBQ0T2W4G_RTRMADP_3_SOCCER-WORLDCUP-TUN-AUS-REPORT-1669472887805
Australia's Mitchell Duke celebrates scoring the winner against Tunisia with Jackson Irvine at the Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah, Qatar. Image Credit: REUTERS

Al Wakrah: A superbly drilled Australian side defended as if their lives depended on it to preserve a priceless 1-0 victory over Tunisia in their Group D encounter to give them real hope of reaching the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup.

With world champions France and Denmark favourites to progress from the group, both Tunisia and Australia would have targeted their clash in the Al Janoub Stadium as a must-win game.

But Australia edged the tactical battle in the first half to deny Tunisia’s technicians the time on the ball they required and then, in the second half as Tunisia threw caution to the wind, Graham Arnold’s side withstood the siege admirably.

Sublime tackle

No-one epitomised Australia’s defensive grit more than 24-year-old Stoke City defender Harry Souttar, who made a sublime goal-saving tackle before halftime and numerous crunching tackles late on as Tunisia poured forward.

Australia did such a great job of stifling Tunisia’s three-man forward line that their keeper Mat Ryan did not have a single save to make until well past the hour mark.

But Australia’s first World Cup victory in 12 years was not simply the result of a rearguard action.

In Aaron Mooy they had the best midfielder on the pitch, the Celtic man pulling the strings and allowing Australia to boss possession in a first half in which they made clever use of the channels against a narrowly defending Tunisian outfit.

It was no surprise that Mitchell Duke’s glancing header in the 23rd minute came from one of 12 crosses Australia attempted to deliver into the Tunisia box in the first half.

Despite the temperature hovering around 30 degrees Celsius, Australia’s energy-levels barely dipped, although they were hanging on for the final 20 minutes as Tunisia, roared on by thousands of red-clad fans, laid siege to the goal.

“I’m hugely proud of the boys. They showed Aussie fighting spirit. They were in their faces all the time and I’m sure they made the nation very proud.” With three points and Denmark to come, Arnold’s team can dream of reaching the last 16. For Tunisia, who did well to forge a 0-0 draw with Denmark in their opener, they will need to beat France in their final game to stand any chance of progressing.

In their last 10 games Tunisia’s defence had only been breached by Brazil, but unless goal-scoring opportunities can be converted, any side’s World Cup campaign is doomed to failure.

Close-range shot

The 32-year-old striker Youssef Msakni, who has waited so long for his World Cup chance, will wonder how he did not score just before the break, steering a close-range shot wide.

Defeat means Tunisia have still only won two World Cup games and questions will surely be asked as to why coach Jalel Kadri opted not to give the country’s second-highest goalscorer Wahbi Khazri more game time here in Qatar.

He was an unused substitute in the first match against Denmark and did not enter the fray on Saturday until the 67th minute when he replaced Aissa Laidounias.

By that stage Tunisia were desperately seeking a way through the massed Australian ranks, even lumping long balls forward.

Khazri’s moment appeared to arrive late on when he connected with a low cross in from the right, but his shot flew straight at Ryan for the save.