The Socceroos break Danish hearts and send Aussie fans into ecstasy, the champions go down (though it doesn’t matter), Poland and Mexico need a rule book and a calculator to work out who goes through in Group C, a superstar fails from the penalty spot and an all-female officiating crew are set to make history.
- Australia 1 – 0 Denmark
- Tunisia 1 – 0 France
- Argentina 2 – 0 Poland
- Mexico 2 – 1 Saudi Arabia
Here are five talking points from day 11 of the 2022 World Cup.
Socceroos in dreamland as Leckie puts it away
An Australian team that snuck into the World Cup with a play-off win over Peru, that was seen as a long shot to advance — with one pre-tournament analysis giving the Socceroos a five per cent chance of going through — had destiny in their own hands as they faced Denmark in the wee hours of this morning.
Win and they were in, draw and it could be enough, lose and they were heading home.
It was a tough start — Australia could have shipped three or four goals in the opening 25 minutes, but the defence held, thanks to Mat Ryan’s saves and big efforts from the likes of Harry Souttar and Milos Degenek.
As nails were bitten around Australia it was still all square at the break.
Regardless of events elsewhere, what came next was something else.
It was an hour into the match when a Danish move broke down in the penalty area, and the Socceroos cleared — it went to Riley McGree on the wing, who played a great through ball to Mathew Leckie.
He ran towards goal, then stepped this way and that to put off the Danish defender trying to stop him, before finding the angle to nutmeg said defender, with a shot that slid past Kasper Schmeichel into the far corner of the net.
Cue absolute SCENES in Qatar, and in Federation Square in Melbourne, among other locations.
There was still half an hour to go, and no room for error given events in the other match.
The legs may have tired, but the effort continued. Denmark tried and tried to find a way through, but the team that scored 30 goals in 10 World Cup qualifiers in Europe could not find a way past Australia.
When Algeria’s Mustapha Ghorbal blew the whistle to complete proceedings, there was relief, joy, and vindication for the team and coach Graham Arnold.
This made two straight wins — a first for the Socceroos at a World Cup. An unprecedented two clean sheets from an unwavering defence. A new set of heroes to go along with the “golden generation” of 2006.
And next up, a meeting with the great Lionel Messi and Argentina (see below for details) with a place in the quarter-finals at stake!
It was history made at the Al Janoub Stadium. Simply magic.
Tunisia stun France — but all for naught
While a fair portion of Australia was busy watching the Socceroos game, there was another vital match underway at Education City Stadium between Tunisia and France.
The underdogs got off to a cracking start in the eighth minute when defender Nader Ghandri met a free-kick with a wonderful mid-air flick to have the net bulging. VAR, however, ruled it out for offside.
It was getting close to the hour mark when Wahbi Khazri got the ball in midfield and decided to go for a wander as the French defence opened up in front of him.
It took speed and skill to navigate, as he came closer to goal before veering to his left just outside the box, running inside the area and pulling the ball back across goal wide of the despairing dive of back-up goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.
The French looked stunned, the Tunisians were jubilant.
Unfortunately for the Eagles of Carthage, a minute or two later, Mathew Leckie did the business for the Socceroos.
France — who had rested a number of superstars because they had already qualified for the next round — threw on Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele in an attempt to get an equaliser.
Griezmann thought he had the goal in the eighth and final (scheduled) minute of added time, when he scored after a cross from Aurélien Tchouameni — but the dreaded VAR intervened again, showing he was well offside when the ball came in.
So Tunisia hung on for a historic win, but were left in third place in Group D and out of the tournament.
Late, late heartbreak for Mexico
Final group games can be a messy proposition at the World Cup.
Sometimes it’s clear who’s going through — but when it’s not, then everyone is in for a night of tension.
If the second and third teams finish level on points, there is a series of tie-breaker criteria used by FIFA to decide who goes through.
As the final games in Group C ticked into added time, Poland and Mexico were level on points, on goal difference and on goals scored.
Poland trailed Argentina 2-0, while Mexico led Saudi Arabia by the same scoreline, highlighted by a stunning 52nd minute free kick from Luis Chavez, which swung over the wall then dipped perfectly for one of the goals of the tournament.
The head-to-head record didn’t help either, as the two teams had played out a 0-0 draw. In the final minutes, the key tie-breaker was the fair play record of both sides, with Mexico having earned seven yellow cards, and Poland five.
Poland managed to avoid any more yellow cards, and as the final whistle went for an Argentina 2-0 win, it was down to El Tri, who HAD to get one more goal to avoid going out.
This after Mexico had had not one, but two goals ruled out for offside during normal time.
As the Mexican side attacked frantically, Saudi Arabia countered, with Salem Al Dawsari playing a one-two with Hattan Bahebri on the edge of the box, before slotting it into the net with two minutes left in added time to end Mexico hopes.
With Poland still waiting nervously on the pitch after their game, word started to filter through — and suddenly the team in white and red was celebrating like there was no tomorrow, despite their defeat.
Incidentally, Poland last made the round of 16 in 1986 — when the World Cup was held in Mexico.
Messi fails from the spot, but it’s Argentina vs Socceroos next
It has been a rollercoaster ride for Argentina at this World Cup, with a shock opening loss to Saudi Arabia, followed by a win over Mexico to keep their hopes alive.
As always, the spotlight shines brightest on Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi, who has carried his team through many a tournament over the years.
Against Poland, La Albiceleste needed a win to be sure of going through.
Argentina were the more attacking side throughout, with Messi and Julian Alvarez having shots stopped in the first half-hour.
With 10 minutes to go to half-time, the ball came across and keeper Wojciech Szczesny flew to try and palm it away. The ball went out but VAR found the keeper’s hand had hit Messi in the face — a penalty was given, although Poland could well feel hard done by.
Argentinian fans roared, the famous number 10 stepped up … and Szczesny dived low but stuck his hand up and blocked Messi’s drive down the middle. Still 0-0!
Argentina made amends with the first move of the second half, as Alexis Mac Alister put them ahead, and Alvarez got the second with more than 20 minutes left to send his team through.
As Group C winners, Argentina now face the runners-up in Group D — Australia!
That match will start at 6am AEDT on Sunday morning, and you can catch all the action in our live blog. Don’t miss it!
First all female refereeing team huge step forward for ‘sexist sport’
Tomorrow’s crunch match in Group E between Germany and Costa Rica will make history, with the first all-female refereeing team at a World Cup, led by French match referee Stefanie Frappart.
And on day 11, Costa Rica manager Luis Suarez applauded the appointment — and acknowledged his own sport had work to do with its treatment of women.
“This is another step forward. This speaks volumes for this woman, of her commitment, especially in this sport which is a very sexist one,” Suarez told reporters.
“It’s very difficult to reach the point that she has reached, I think it’s good for football and a positive step for football, to show that it’s opening up for everyone.”
The three-women team of officials for the game will be Frappart, Brazil’s Neuza Back and Mexico’s Karen Diaz.
Last week, Frappart became the first female official at a men’s World Cup when she was fourth official for the Poland v Mexico Group C tie, but on Thursday she will be more in the spotlight.
Costa Rica midfielder Celso Borges agreed with his coach.
“If she is there it’s because she has all the capabilities to perform on this stage,” he said. “She has done it before in big matches so I don’t see why tomorrow should be an exception.”