Australia secured a place in the World Cup knockout stages for only the second time by beating (and eliminating) a Denmark side many had tipped to be a dark horse in Qatar.
Veteran Melbourne City winger Matthew Leckie scored the only goal of the game, enough to keep Australia second in Group D behind France.
Trailing Australia by two points at kick-off, the onus was on Denmark to attack and deploy in a 4-1-4-1 attacking formation. Australia, meanwhile, just hoped to see it through.
The biggest chances in the morning went the way of the Danes. A well-executed team move brought Andreas Skov Olsen an opportunity in the center of the box, which was expertly blocked by Aussie full-back Miloš Degenek. Moments later Mat Ryan parried Mathias Jensen’s ferocious effort.
Denmark’s interplay through the midfield was generally impressive and a better connection from Olsen on the run could have caused Ryan more of a problem.
Australia posed a threat midway through the first half with a long ball forward that Mitchell Duke nodded into the path of Riley McGree. The Middlesbrough man hit the target with a speculative half-volley but it was straight at Kasper Schmeichel. Jackson Irvin’s weak header was easily saved.
Graham Arnold’s Socceroos began to compete on a more even footing with better energy in the closing stages of the first half. Arnold then switched things up on the stroke of half-time to give Duke a bit more support up top and it paid off almost immediately when a cross found Jackson Irvin in a good position. But the ball reached Irvin so quickly that he was unable to control the first shot.
Australia’s breakthrough, which came shortly after Tunisia scored a goal that threatened to knock them out of their second group match, was a quick back-to-back counter-attack within seconds.
When a Danish move broke down on the edge of the box, the ball found its way to McGree, who played it into space in front of a sprinting Leckie. He turned Joakim Maehle inside out and fired a low left-footed shot over the defender’s legs and back across the goal into the corner.
Denmark thought they had a penalty when referee Mustapha Ghorbal pointed to the spot when substitute Kasper Dolberg went down under pressure from Harry Souttar. However, the Australian centre-back was saved by an offside flag.
As the game wore on, Australia’s fluid formation allowed them to lean in midfield and really frustrate Denmark to force out the space that was there in the first half.
Denmark were steamrolling in the closing stages. Nevertheless, the door was repeatedly slammed in their face, especially Souttar turned into a colossus in the penalty area. Even Schmeichel surged forward for two turns at the break to direct his father, but Australia held on.
Australia vs Denmark: Player ratings
1. Australia (4-4-2)
GK: Mat Ryan (c) – 7/10 – Had relatively comfortable saves to make in the first half but then wasn’t tested enough in the second.
RB: Milos Degenek – 7/10 – Made a big block early in the game to stop Denmark taking the lead.
CB: Harry Souttar – 8/10 – Defended well overall but fortunate that his foul on Dolberg in the box was superseded by an offside flag. He made huge blocks and challenges in the closing stages in particular.
CB: Kye Rowles – 8/10 – Put his body on the line for a painful but important block early in the second half.
LB: Aziz Behich – 7/10 – Picked up an avoidable booking in the fourth minute but it didn’t seem to impede his performance.
RM: Matthew Leckie – 8/10 – Arguably guilty of not providing enough defensive cover in the first half, but took his goal really well because he actually had quite a lot to do. Ran himself into the ground.
CM: Aaron Mooy – 7/10 – Known for his technical side, but this was a big performance without the ball.
CM: Jackson Irvine – 7/10 – Pushed a bit further forward in the second half with a tactical shift. A huge shift.
LM: Craig Goodwin – 4/10 – Struggled to get into it. Subbed at half-time.
ST: Riley McGree – 7/10 – Had a decent chance in the first half that lacked a bit of conviction. Moved to the left after half-time and it was from that position that he assisted Leckie’s goal.
ST: Mitchell Duke – 7/10 – Played a physical game. Didn’t get the rewards of a goal but worked the Danish defenders hard.
SUB: Keanu Baccus (46′ for Goodwin) – 7/10
SUB: Bailey Wright (74′ for McGree) – 6/10
SUB: Jamie Maclaren (82′ for Duke) – N/A
SUB: Ajdin Hrustic (89′ for Leckie) – N/A
Manager: Graham Arnold – 8/10 – A change in formation at half-time had a clear and positive impact on how Australia were playing. Made another tactical shift to try and preserve the lead.
2. Denmark (4-1-4-1)
GK: Kasper Schmeichel – 6/10 – Didn’t actually have loads to do but couldn’t keep out the decisive goal.
RB: Rasmus Kristensen – 4/10 – Too hesitant to get forward, which was not what Denmark needed when chasing a win. Off at half-time.
CB: Joachim Andersen – 5/10 – Gave the ball away more than you would expect.
CB: Andreas Christensen – 6/10 – Had a tough battle against Duke.
LB: Joakim Maehle – 5/10 – Didn’t have the quality when it mattered and it kind of summed up his tournament after a really good Euro 2020.
DM: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – 6/10 – Left to patrol in front of the back four. Did well in the opening 45 minutes but was then more outnumbered.
RM: Andreas Skov Olsen – 6/10 – Took up good positions but faded from the game once Australia got going.
CM: Mathias Jensen – 6/10 – Enjoyed the freedom to break forward from midfield in the first half. Less effective after the break.
CM: Christian Eriksen (c) – 6/10 – Pulled the strings for his team initially. Australia kind of swamped him after half-time, although still a threat from set-pieces.
LM: Jesper Lindstrom – 6/10 – Denied a goal by a great Degenek block. Needed more quality in the critical moments.
ST: Martin Braithwaite – 5/10 – Whether short on confidence or what, lacked a clinical instinct in front of goal. Build up play was decent though.
SUB: Alexander Bah (46′ for Kristensen) – 5/10
SUB: Kasper Dolberg (59′ for Braithwaite) – 5/10
SUB: Mikkel Damsgaard (59′ for Jensen) – 5/10
SUB: Robert Skov (69′ for Olsen) – 5/10
SUB: Andreas Cornelius (69′ for Maehle) – 5/10
Manager: Kasper Hjulmand – 5/10 – Didn’t hang about making substitutions to try and pull the tide in Denmark’s favour. No impact.