DOHA: Australia won only their third World Cup match in their history with a 1-0 victory over Tunisia on Saturday to revive their last-16 hopes.
Striker Mitch Duke scored the only goal of a tight game with a clever first-half header and then Australia hung on tight to silence the boisterous Tunisia crowd. Australia are second in Group D with three points from two matches, having been soundly beaten by reigning champions France 4-1 in the opening match of the tournament.
Australia face Denmark – who play France later on Saturday – in their final group and knockout round match on sight.
Their best World Cup performance came in 2006 when they also reached the last 16, in the days of Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka.
Graham Arnold’s Australia don’t have players like that, but they did have a lot of heart and they began to whistle deafeningly in front of 42,000 at the South Stadium, their fans vastly outnumbering them.
Every Australian touch was met with whistles from the ranks of Tunisia’s recalcitrant, raucous, flag-waving supporters.
Australia had won just two matches at the World Cup before that and joined this edition through a play-off.
But they started better against Tunisia, who faced Denmark 0-0 in the opening match and are looking to reach the knockout stage for the first time.
The match was shown on Australian television on Saturday night in prime time and viewers watched their gritty team dominate the first 15 minutes, without mustering a shot.
Tunisia received the first sniff of the goal in the 19th minute, but captain Youssef Msakni was under pressure, and then defender Mohamed Drager set off. In the 23rd minute, Australia took the lead in possession.
Craig Goodwin, who scored the first goal in the loss against France, crossed in from the left and the ball rebounded for Duke to look a header over his shoulder and into the net.
The 31-year-old Japanese striker exchanged angry words with the Tunisian bench when he fell over the half-hour mark.
The clashes ended with a handshake of substitute Hannibal Mejbri, the young Manchester United player.
Another English resident, Stoke City defender Harry Souttar, made one last heroic move from the dangerous Msakni as half-time approached.
The Tunisian crowd’s heads were in their hands in injury time when Msakni finally made his escape from Souttar, only going wide from close range.