Socceroos stars thought their teammate was playing a practical joke when he told them Tunisia had scored against France – putting their World Cup dream in jeopardy
The Socceroos thought their master motivator Milos Degenek was at it again.
As Australia’s players swarmed in celebration over Mathew Leckie after his goal against Denmark in their final World Cup group game, Degenek was called to the sidelines of Al Janoub Stadium in Doha.
He was told by support staff Tunisia had scored against France in the group’s simultaneous game.
Mathew Leckie (left) scored the only goal of the game as Australia beat Denmark 1-0
The Tunisians found the net three minutes before Leckie. For those three minutes, the north Africans were in second spot in the group and gearing up for the knockout phase.
Degenek was summoned to the sideline by assistant coach Rene Meulensteen, who had just been told of Tunisia’s goal by another assistant, Tony Vidmar.
‘It was just a quiet word from Tony Vidmar in my ear – no more information, no reason to jump at it and panic,’ Meulensteen said.
‘Funny thing is, about a minute later we scored. That is when I told Arnie [head coach Graham Arnold] to say: “Listen, Tunisia is winning 1-0”.
But Milos Degenek did not join the celebrations as he was summoned to the touchline by assistant coach Rene Meulensteen, who told him Tunisia were leading 1-0
Wahbi Khazri’s goal momentarily put Tunisia in second place in Group D, until Leckie scored
‘And I grabbed Milos Degenek to say: “Get in a huddle and tell the players to make them sure they know where we are […] we have to win, we have to keep a clean sheet”.’
Degenek told his teammates: If we don’t win, the Tunisians will sneak through to the round of 16 on goal difference.
‘The boys thought it was my psyching them up so we won’t lose,’ Degenek said.
‘But it was actually me being serious.’
Meulensteen had been alerted to Tunisia’s goal but chose not inform Graham Arnold until the Socceroos took the lead against Denmark
Meulensteen said such an approach would be typical of the 28-year-old defender.
‘That’s the type of guy he is, that’s unfortunate for him. So he had to pull out everything to make sure that it was real.’
Some still did not believe Degenek.
‘In the back of my mind I was actually like: “Well done, Milos, that’s a good idea, tell the boys that we need a win, absolutely”,’ midfielder Jackson Irvine said.
Jackson Irvine (left) said some of the Socceroos did not believe Tunisia had scored
‘And then you find out later on [he was right].’
Arnold was not aware until the final whistle of Australia’s 1-0 win over Denmark that Tunisia had downed France, who rested almost their entire first-choice team, by the same scoreline.
‘I would have been absolutely devastated if we had got a draw and it didn’t pan out the way it did,’ Arnold said.