Mathew Leckie's 60th minute goal sent Australia into the last 16 of the World Cup
Doha (AFP) - Australia beat Denmark 1-0 on Wednesday to reach the last 16 of the World Cup for just the second time in their history while holders France won the group despite an upset defeat to Tunisia.
Mathew Leckie’s superb 60th-minute goal, twisting and turning to shake off the Danish defenders, was enough to lift the Australians into second spot in Group D and earn them a meeting with the winner of Argentina’s Group C.
Australia coach Graham Arnold said he was “just so proud of the effort by the boys” after they qualified for the knockout stage for the first time since 2006.
“It was a short turnaround but their effort was incredible. A lot of belief, a lot of hard work,” Arnold said.
“These boys came in with a great mindset. We’ve been working on this for four, four-and-a-half years about the belief, the energy and the focus. I could see in their eyes they were ready tonight.”
After two wins out two, France were already assured of a place in the knockout round at kickoff so coach Didier Deschamps made nine changes to his starting lineup to play Tunisia, leaving stars including Kylian Mbappe among the substitutes.
Facing a second-string French team, Tunisia stunned the holders when captain Wahbi Khazri stretched to poke the ball past French goalkeeper Steve Mandanda after 58 minutes at the Education City Stadium.
Deschamps responded by sending on five substitutes, including Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.
Tunisia stood firm but Griezmann finally had the ball in the net eight minutes into added-on time, driving in a shot through a crowd of defenders.
But just when France thought they had salvaged a point, New Zealand referee Matthew Conger was called over to the VAR monitor and ruled the goal out for offside.
So the north Africans’ supporters counted down the final seconds to a famous victory over France that will go some way to making up for their elimination.
- Showdown -
Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski were heading into Wednesday’s later showdown between Argentina and Poland with the futures of what could be their final World Cup adventures hanging in the balance.
Either one of the two biggest stars in European club football could fail to qualify for the knockout stages in Qatar and end their careers without tasting glory at the most prestigious tournament of all.
Messi has already netted twice in his last attempt to emulate Diego Maradona and win the World Cup for Argentina and is trying to drag the Albiceleste out of Group C after they were stunned by Saudi Arabia in their opening match.
Argentina beat Mexico 2-0 to salvage their campaign and sit second, level on three points with the Saudis and one behind leaders Poland and only a win will guarantee that 35-year-old Messi’s Qatar campaign continues into December.
An Argentine exit would devastate fans back home and a worldwide army of Messi fans desperate to see him lift the World Cup.
Lewandowski was visibly moved by fulfilling his “childhood dream” of scoring his first ever World Cup goal in what was his fifth match at the finals, a 2-0 win over the Saudis.
Lionel Messi has scored in both of Argentina's World Cup fixtures so far
The Barcelona forward knows he might not get another chance on this stage should the Poles exit the tournament.
“I’m aware it might be my last World Cup and I wanted to be able to say that I’ve played and scored at World Cups,” said the 34-year-old.
Lewandowski is a safer bet to make the last 16 as Poland only need a draw, and even if they lose they are only sure to be knocked out if the Saudis beat Mexico in Wednesday’s other late game.
Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz insisted it wasn’t simply a contest between the forwards despite the inevitable focus on the two big stars.
“It’s not only a match between Lewandowski and Messi, it’s not tennis,” he said.