A first-half header from Mitch Duke was enough to see off Tunisia and ignite Australia’s hopes of progressing to the World Cup knockout stages in a 1-0 victory.
Duke converted Craig Goodwin’s left-wing cross in the 23rd minute with the Socceroos having to withstand some late pressure to secure a win that means they head into their final Group D clash with Denmark with all to play for.
Tunisia have a solitary point from their two games and will have to beat defending champions France on Wednesday and hope other results go their way.
Australia shaded a frantic opening but could not profit from a series of crosses into the Tunisia box.
Delivering the ball from wide areas was clearly a key part of the Australia strategy and it paid dividends midway through the first half. Duke started the move with a deft touch in midfield before racing into the box to cleverly glance Goodwin’s deflected cross past Tunisia goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen.
Tunisia grew as an attacking force as the first half progressed and could have levelled twice before the break.
After 41 minutes, robust play from Issam Jebali saw him pick out Mohamed Drager at the far post only for defender Harry Souttar to race across to block his goalbound shot.
The tireless Jebali then turned up on the right but his low centre was fired wide by captain Youssef Msakni.
Tunisia dominated possession in the second half but their desperation to find an equaliser almost saw them undone again after 71 minutes – substitute Jamie Maclaren escaping down the left before delivering a low cross that was inches in front of the sliding Mathew Leckie.
A second goal was not required in the end as Australia’s resolute backline – in which Souttar was outstanding – did enough to keep Tunisia out and register just the Socceroos’ second clean sheet in 18 World Cup matches.
What does it mean? Australia have shot at last 16
Australia are back in the mix to qualify but they will only find out what they need heading into matchday three following Denmark’s clash with France later on Saturday.
A decisive clash against the Danes comes next for the Socceroos, who have only made the last 16 once before in 2006.
Tunisia need snookers. A victory against Les Bleus in their final match is a must, although that looks unlikely even if France have already qualified by the time they meet at Education City Stadium.
Superb Souttar keeps Tunisia at bay
Stoke City centre-half Souttar was a colossus at the heart of the Australia defence.
The 24-year-old made a decisive intervention to deny Drager in the first half and then again in the second as Taha Yassine Khenissi looked to capitalise on a rare slip from Kye Rowles.
Tireless Jebali impresses
Tunisia’s most dangerous moments all came through the industrious Jebali. The 30-year-old, who plays his club football for Odense in Denmark, was a constant source of irritation for the Australia backline with his willingness to run the channels.
Unfortunately for the north Africans his build-up play was not matched by clinical finishes with both Drager and Msakni wasting wonderful opportunities to get on the scoresheet.
Msakni had six shots – the most ever from a Tunisia player in a World Cup match – but it was a day of huge frustration for his side as Australia kept their first World Cup clean sheet since a 0-0 draw against Chile in 1974.
Key Opta Stats:
– Australia have scored the opening goal in both of their games – they had only gone 1-0 up in two of their 16 World Cup games before the 2022 tournament.
– Their clean sheet ended a run of 14 consecutive World Cup games in which they had conceded.
– All three of Australia’s wins at the World Cup have been against teams from different continents (Asia, Europe, Africa), the joint-highest such record, along with Algeria and Iran.
– Tunisia have failed to score in 53 per cent of their matches at the World Cup (9/17), though this is just the second time they have failed to score in their opening two games at a single edition (after 1998).
– Duke has scored five goals in his last eight starts in all competitions for Australia, with four of these goals being headers.
Australia take on Denmark while Tunisia meet defending champions France, both matches on Wednesday.