The Socceroos have always had a reputation for playing physical, relentless football – but new details have revealed just how hard they had to work to save their World Cup in the 1-0 win against Tunisia.
Australia has often lacked the polish and world-class skills that other sides display on the game’s biggest stage – and Qatar is no exception.
That doesn’t mean they can’t make it incredibly hard on their opponents, however, as Tunisia will attest.
Mat Ryan (left) makes a flying save as Harry Souttar (top) defends against Tunisian Taha Yessine Khennissi late in the match
After Mitchell Duke’s wonder header gave Australia the lead in the 23rd minute, there was no way the Socceroos could get complacent after the 4-1 France debacle just days prior.
The side closed out the first half strongly, before Tunisia, led by irrepressible FC Koln midfielder Ellyes Skhiri, piled on 10 shots on goal in the second – seven of which were either blocked or on target.
For comparison, Australia had just two; neither of which troubled the Tunisian defence or goalkeeper.
Australia’s captain Mat Ryan celebrates after beating Tunisia on Saturday night. The Socceroos goalkeeper was immense between the sticks under a barrage of pressure
Tunisia had 10 shots on goal in the second half – seven of which were either blocked or on target.
Socceroos skipper Mat Ryan made four saves, and had a front-row seat as he saw how hard his side had to work to keep their World Cup hopes alive.
‘It’s what dreams are made of, what unfolded here,’ he said after the game.
‘Just super-proud. A collective effort from the get-go.
‘We just left it all out there on the park. That is the objective every game we play, but somehow we took it to another level.’
It really was an epic performance by the Socceroos defence, led by Ryan and 198cm giant Harry Souttar, who also produced what may well go down as the best tackle of the tournament.
Harry Souttar makes what would prove the be the game-winning tackle against Tunisian forward Yassine Khenissi with just minutes remaining in the game
The Socceroos made 273 pressure (62 more than Tunisia) in the game, forcing 88 turnovers and regaining possession 76 times in a remarkable performance. It was the difference in the game.
Souttar, whose performance at centre back was called the ‘greatest Socceroos performance of all-time’ by teammate Jackson Irvine, led the way of course – regaining possession 12 times.
Irvine himself, who works himself into exhaustion every game was no slouch; producing 10 pressuring plays and running for a remarkable 11.94km – a mark only bested in green and gold by midfield general Aaron Mooy.
Data on the right shows the incredible amount of pressure the Socceroos placed on Tunisia
The side forced 88 turnovers and regained possession 76 times, led by Jackson Irvine and Harry Souttar’s relentless pressure
New data shows the huge amount of distance Socceroos players covered. Aaron Mooy covered the most with 11.95km, with Jackson Irvine just behind on 11.94km
As coach Graham Arnold said after the match in a press conference, this win can from the ‘Old Aussie way … (of) grit, fight and determination’.
Of course just hanging on to a lead was a foreign concept in the Socceroos. Ryan’s clean sheet was the nation’s first since the 1974 World Cup and previously the longest Australia has held a lead was 18 minutes; coming just days earlier after Craig Goodwin’s opener against France.
Souttar was one of many Socceroos visibly spent after the game, collapsing on the ground in relief as soon as the final whistle had blown.
An utterly exhausted Harry Souttar (lying down), Kye Rowles (number four) and Milos Degenek express their relief and happiness after beating Tunisia 1-0 on Saturday night to keep their World Cup hopes alive
‘Obviously it’s a little bit of a different feeling than the other day, coming off after that game,’ he said after the match.
‘We were hanging on for a little bit towards the end, the last 15, 20 minutes.
‘When the final whistle went, just the relief – all that hard work we have put in so far and over the qualification stages has come to that. I am just so pleased,’ said Souttar.
Australia will play Denmark at 2am (AEDT) on Thursday morning, and if they can secure a win or a draw, they may well make what appeared to be an impossible appearance in the Round of 16.