Australia stunned Denmark – a team ranked 28 places above the Socceroos in FIFA’s World Rankings – to reach the World Cup knockout stages thanks to a brilliant goal from Mathew Leckie that secured a 1-0 victory.
It had been a tense, scoreless first half, marked by Denmark dominating possession and failing to convert any of its chances in this Group D match.
The tension seemed to percolate through every pass, every shot on goal, every pause in play, and ratcheted up a notch at the beginning of the second half when the news that Tunisia had taken a lead against France in the other Group D match filtered through.
A goalless draw between Australia and Denmark and a Tunisia win would have put the Carthage Eagles through to the knockout stages.
Just four minutes later, with their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread, the Socceroos counter-attacked from their box and Riley McGree found Leckie on a well timed run.
Leckie then jinked past two Danish defenders and rolled the ball past Kasper Schmeichel into the net, prompting wild celebrations with his team.
Denmark continued to press but Australia hung on in a tense finish to secure its spot in the round of 16 and win back-to-back World Cup matches for the first time in its history.
Victory over Tunisia on Saturday had given Australia an unlikely chance of progressing to the knockout stages and, despite its underwhelming start to the World Cup, Denmark could have also qualified in this winner-takes-all match.
Denmark began with the urgency of a team needing a win, dominating the early possession and forcing Australia’s Mathew Ryan into two saves in the opening 10 minutes, though neither seemed to particularly trouble him.
Denmark continued to press with Christian Eriksen’s long passes down the left-hand side finding acres of space and pinning Australia in its own half.
Every chance, however, went unfinished and the two sides went into the break tied 0-0.
The stalemate continued into the second half, extending into the stands where fans sat rigid with tension, subdued and barely singing.
Then came Wahbi Khazri’s goal for Tunisia in the other Group D match, shortly followed by Leckie’s strike, turning the group on its head twice in five minutes.
There was more drama minutes later when the referee awarded Denmark a penalty for a foul on Kasper Dolberg but it was overturned for an offside and Australia closed out the remaining minutes to secure the win.
Meanwhile, Tunisia defeated defending champion France 1-0 but could not progress to the knockout stages. Les Bleus had already qualified before playing Tunisia and rested some of its star players.