A breakaway goal by Mathew Leckie gave Australia a 1-0 victory over Denmark in their Group D World Cup match, sending the delirious Socceroos through to the last 16 and the disappointing Danes crashing out.
Denmark needed to win the match at the Al Janoub Stadium on Wednesday to progress, but their early pressure was frustrated by a resolute Australian defence. Australia grew into the game as the first half went on and mounted several counterattacks, but the game remained goalless at half time.
A moment of magic from Leckie broke the deadlock on the hour mark. As Denmark pushed men forward, Australia broke and a through ball found Leckie in acres of space on the left. He twisted the Danish full-back Joakim Maehle one way, then the other, before passing the ball past Kasper Schmeichel and into the far corner.
“I’m proud, exhausted, everything really. It’s hard to describe the emotions right now,” Leckie told Australian broadcaster SBS after the game.
“We always knew we could do it as a group. We had our doubters but our spirit, our belief, our work ethic and how close we are as a group shows on the pitch. The last 15, 20 minutes, we battled until the end.
“It didn’t matter what they threw at us, we weren’t conceding. We’ll make the most of it tonight, but then it’s all about recovery.”
After the Australian goal, Denmark poured forward in search of goals. But although they had a likely penalty overruled for offside, they rarely looked like scoring.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, the referee awarded Denmark a penalty for a foul on Kasper Dolberg, but it was quickly overturned after the flag was raised for offside.
With Tunisia taking the lead against France in the other Group D match, it looked like Australia would need to see out the win to progress. They nervously weathered waves of Danish attacks to claim the 1-0 victory and finish second in the group, behind France and ahead of Tunisia.
The Danes – semi-finalists in last year’s Euros – will be disappointed to finish bottom of the group.
Australia, through to the last 16 of a World Cup for the first time since 2006, celebrated wildly. The Socceroos will face off against the winner of Group C, which could be Poland, Argentina or Saudi Arabia.
This is only the second time that Australia have qualified for the knockout stages. In 2006, they crashed out of the round of 16 to eventual champions Italy after a 1-0 loss.
At the final whistle, Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hailed what he called a “magnificent” victory.
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) November 30, 2022
But Australia’s coach Graham Arnold said he is more focused on the work ahead than the jubilations after the win.
“We’ve been working on this for four-and-a-half years, and I could see in their eyes they were ready tonight,” Arnold said.
“No celebrations tonight. That’s why we won after a great win against Tunisia: no celebrations, no emotion, sleep and no social media.”