The Socceroos took on Tunisia at the Al Janoub Stadium in their second fixture at the 2022 Fifa World Cup. Graham Arnold’s men were looking to bounce back after a 4-1 humbling at the hands of world champions France. Tunisia came into this match on the back of a hard-fought 0-0 draw with a highly fancied Denmark side.
Bathed in sunlight, the stadium was resplendent, with Socceroos fans outnumbered five to one in the stands by Tunisian support. We always expected the Eagles of Carthage to be supported heavily, with a reported 40,000 strong expat Tunisians calling Qatar home.
The match started much differently to the France contest for the Socceroos. The midfield looked on top and Australia looked dangerous on the wings, particularly on the left, where Craig Goodwin was seeing a lot of the ball early.
The breakthrough came to Australia in the 23rd minute. For the second straight match, they took the lead. This time it was Craig Goodwin who turned provider after his deflected cross made it to Mitch Duke, who made no mistake, nodding it past the Tunisian goalkeeper.
Unlike the France clash, this time there was no immediate momentum swing after the Socceroos scored. They didn’t panic. Instead, they maintained control in what was becoming an ever-increasing physical contest. The defence and midfield that wilted against Les Bleus stayed strong.
The Tunisian threat was highlighted five minutes before the break. Tunisia forced Harry Souttar into a heroic block after Mohamed Drager made his way into the box and attempted to score. Some poor finishing kept Australia in the lead in injury time when Youssef Msakni missed when it was easier to score.
The half-time whistle came at the perfect time for the Socceroos, as Tunisia dominated possession toward the end of the first half.
Ferjani Sassi came on for Mohamed Drager in a more attacking role in the only change from either side during the halftime break. The change saw a flurry of attacks that saw the Socceroos shell-shocked in the first ten minutes after the restart.
Despite the early scare, Australia’s defence remained stoic. Matt Leckie and Craig Goodwin combined yet again to create a dangerous opportunity for the Socceroos. No one followed the ball into the box and it amounted to nothing.
Just after the hour, Australia’s talisman Ajdin Hrustic came on for Riley McGree. A-League goal machine Jamie Maclaren made his World Cup bow in place of goalscorer Mitch Duke as well.
The Aussies defence and goalkeeper Mat Ryan were being called into action more often. They held strong despite the onslaught. Despite the increasing Tunisian threat, the Socceroos had a couple of chances of their own. The oncoming Matt Leckie nearly turned in Jamie Maclaren’s cross in a moment that had the entire country holding their collective breath.
As the clock ticked closer to 90 minutes, Tunisia took control of the game with several good chances to score. Whilst the dam wall didn’t break in this period, it sure was crumbling. Some heroic defending by Harry Souttar and brilliant goalkeeping from Mat Ryan kept the Socceroos in the ascendancy.
Despite a tense six minutes of added time, the Socceroos held on for a famous victory, their first in 12 years in a World Cup finals. It was their third overall and their first clean sheet since 1974.
“No words. I’m gonna start crying, it was such a huge moment,” Socceroos goal scorer Mitch Duke said.
“There’s no words mate, it's just the best feeling in the world.”
Focus now turns to a winner take all clash versus a Denmark side they got a point from back in 2018. This time, only three points will do.
For now, though, Socceroos fans can revel in their first victory on the biggest stage since 2010.