Dogged Australia squeeze past Tunisia to revive World Cup hopes

Australia won a World Cup match for just the third time in their history with a stubborn 1-0 victory over Tunisia on Saturday to revive their last-16 hopes.

Striker Mitch Duke scored the only goal in a tight game with a smart header in the first half and Australia then held on desperately to silence Tunisia’s vociferous fans.

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Australia are second in Group D with three points from two games, having been soundly beaten 4-1 by holders France in their tournament opener.

The Socceroos face Denmark – who play France later on Saturday – in their final group game and the knockout round is in sight.

Their best World Cup performance came in 2006 when they also reached the last sixteen, in the days of Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka.

Graham Arnold’s Australia don’t have that kind of player but they have plenty of heart and started to deafening whistles in front of 42,000 at Al Janoub Stadium, where their fans were heavily outnumbered.

Every touch in Australia was met with whistles from the pounding ranks of Tunisia’s bouncing, brawling and flag-waving supporters.

Australia had won just two matches in the World Cup prior to this and squeezed into this edition via a play-off.

But they started better against a Tunisian side who held Denmark 0-0 in their opener and are looking to reach the knockout stage for the first time.

The match was shown in prime time on Saturday night in Australia and viewers saw their scrappy side dominate the first 15 minutes, without taking a shot.

Tunisia got the first goal in the 19th minute but skipper Youssef Msakni was forced out, then defender Mohamed Drager blazed over.

In the 23rd minute, Australia took the lead their possession deserved.

Craig Goodwin, who scored the opener in the loss to France, crossed from the left and the ball ricocheted for Duke to flick his header back over his own shoulder and into the net.

The Japan-based centre-forward, 31, exchanged angry words with the Tunisian bench as he was bundled off on the half-hour.

The training ended in a handshake with substitute Hannibal Mejbri, the teenager from Manchester United.

Another English-based player, Stoke City defender Harry Souttar, made a heroic final save from the dangerous Msakni as half-time approached.

The Tunisian fans had their heads in their hands in injury time when Msakni finally escaped Souttar, only to go wide from close range.

Coach Jalel Kadri took Drager off at halftime and replaced him with a midfielder, Ferjani Sassi, and a game that had simmered to that point threatened to boil over.

Playing on the break, Australia were inches from a second but Mathew Leckie couldn’t connect on a low cross as he slid in front of goal.

Minutes later goalkeeper and skipper Mathew Ryan denied Msakni from close range and Australia almost held on under intense pressure to leave Tunisia’s World Cup campaign in deep trouble.

(AFP)

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