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Australia must win their final group stage game and hope other results go their way to progress to the knockout rounds of the World Cup after a 1-1 draw with Denmark.
It was a fine performance from the Socceroos, the side creating far more than in their last fixture, and while the result keeps their qualification hopes alive, it’s a case of an opportunity lost for Bert van Marwijk and his team.
That was clear in the manager’s post-match interview. “The disappointment is that out of two games we should have four points. We deserved it. We played very well,” van Marwijk said.
“They were afraid of us.”
Much like in Australia’s opening game against France, it was their opponents who started the game the stronger of the two sides, Denmark making the first forays into the Socceroos’ area.
Two early Christian Eriksen set-pieces were negotiated well enough, but the superstar Tottenham midfielder quickly showed he’s just as adept at finding the back of the net as he is delivering with a dead ball.
With seven minutes gone, a poor Aaron Mooy defensive header – perhaps the outstanding Mooy’s only mistake of the match – was unable to clear the Danish danger, and the bouncing ball soon found Eriksen following a savvy touch from striker Nicolai Jorgensen.
It was a tricky height, but the number ten made no mistake, rifling an immaculate volley past Mat Ryan before Australia’s keeper had the time to adequately react.
But the early goal spurred Bert van Marwijk’s side into action. With Denmark more willing to drop back and defend the lead – although they were far from negative, with only a sharp save from Ryan preventing a Trent Sainsbury own-goal – the Socceroos made attacking in-roads.
Tom Rogic found himself on the ball far more frequently than against France, as did wingers Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse. The former of the two was immense throughout the match, putting in arguably his finest performance for the national side, while the latter faded as the game wore on.
But despite that, Kasper Schmeichel remained untested, and a goal never looked truly likely until the match’s moment of controversy.
Leckie rose highest to meet a Mooy corner, his header striking the raised arm of Yussef Poulsen. The contact was obvious but inadvertent and unintentional, the Danish winger having no time to pull his arm away. Despite initially waving play on, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz took just seconds to point to the spot after VAR’s intervention.
Were it given against Australia, the uproar would be significant – it no doubt is in Denmark. Instead, it’s been seen as something of a much-deserved square-up following the decision which went against the side in the France match.
Mile Jedinak, ever reliable from the spot, made no mistake for the second game in a row, and the half-time scores were level.
Having opened up as the first half, the game continued to do so in the second, the Socceroos enjoying the bulk of the chances – although the Danes had their fair share too.
But, forever a flaw of the side during the Ange Postecoglou era, Australia still lacks a lethal edge up front under van Marwijk. Mooy went close with a rasping long-range shot, Rogic forced a comfortable save from Schmeichel, and a rare positioning error from the keeper couldn’t be exploited thanks to a slightly errant Leckie cross.
Daniel Arzani’s early introduction added some life to the attack, the youngster doing superbly on one occasion to fight his way into the box when he had no right to, and forcing a sharp save from Schmeichel with minutes left on another. Any hype around Arzani’s potential – and whether he should be given a starting role – will only grow following his excellent performance off the bench tonight.
But Andrew Nabbout never really threatened, nor did his replacement, Tomi Juric, after Nabbout’s shoulder popped out and forced him from the field. Questions will be asked of van Marwijk’s preference for Juric over the unused Tim Cahill, who would have been more suited to capitalising on Australia’s plethora of crosses into the area.
Denmark too could not make the most of their attacks. A late volley from Eriksen – who was largely peripheral after opening the scoring – flashed wide, and minutes earlier Thomas Delaney wasted an excellent run with a horribly wayward cross.
They also had claims on a VAR-influenced penalty, or at the very least an inspection from the referee, after Andreas Cornelius was hauled down by Sainsbury on the corner of the box. Unlike in the first half, there was no intervention from the video assistants after play continued.
Perhaps, then, a draw was the oft-cliched ‘fair result’. But it does leave the Socceroos’ qualification hopes hanging by a thread, van Marwijk requiring a win against Peru and for France to defeat Denmark (assuming Les Blues defeat Peru later tonight) next week to get his side to the last 16.