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Australia strike a blow for Asia


Twist the 2010 World Cup song only just, replacing a continent with, and there you have it: this time for Asia. Saudi Arabia and Japan have made the second-ever World Cup in this part of the world a thing to remember, the implications of Iran’s run here have been felt beyond the pitch but it was Australia who struck the most resounding blow for the continent by making the round of 16.

Australia’s 1-0 win against Denmark through Mathew Leckie’s 60th-minute goal took them to where they have been only once, in 2006. On Saturday, Australia notched up their first World Cup in 12 years and it led to reporters telling players in the mixed zone that Melbourne’s Federation Square had gone berserk. And now this. Predictably, after the final whistle, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was played on the public address system at Al Janoub Stadium.

“It is really hard to describe emotions now,” said Leckie in a pitchside interview. “We always knew we could do it as a group. I am proud, exhausted.”

Leckie is not as much a journeyman as Mitchell Duke whose goal fetched the win against Tunisia and who plays in the Japan second division. Leckie is with Melbourne City which is among the tranche of teams owned by the City Football group. And he has represented Borussia Moenchengladbach.

After a cautious first half, Australia began more aggressively and deserved the goal. Leckie ran again and nearly found Jackson Irvine but with Denmark looking flat as the game went on, they didn’t need to. Christian Eriksen’s poor touch in second-half stoppage time summed up how Denmark withered away in a tournament they, guided by his exceptional talent, were expected to light up.

Denmark started brightly though using the width of the park for this must-win Group D game on Wednesday. Joakim Maehle and Jesper Lindstrom on the left and Andreas Skov Olsen on the other side kept Australia busy. There were sharp passes in close range blended with the ball played long, there were nutmegs – it felt so nice that Lindstrom did it twice – and there were passes with the outside of the boot. But the ball didn’t once fall for a Dane to finish.

Martin Braithwaite couldn’t get a leg to a partial clearance from goalkeeper Mathew Ryan and Eriksen couldn’t keep an effort on target n the 25th minute. The Denmark captain had found Braithwaite who released Jesper Lindstrom, the left-side forward breezing into the Australia penalty area only to see the ball ping around before Eriksen shot out. Andreas Cornelius failed to direct a header on target in the 73rd minute and again in second-half stoppage time.

Led by Harry Souttar, the man mountain who has a day job as a central defender – the slide in the 83rd minute was one of the many times he put his body on the line – Australia managed to contain the red shirts for the rest of the time. When Ryan gripped a corner kick in the six minutes of stoppage time before the end, the stadium roared like someone had scored.

Only Lindstrom continued being a difficult proposition for Australia. Even though he hit the corner-flag, Milons Degenek had to pull him back and was booked.

After Riley Mcgree’s early effort was blocked by a teammate running on goal, Australia had to wait beyond the half-hour mark for a look at Kasper Schmeichel’s goal. But Leckie’s poor touch let them down.

Nothing of the sort happened when Australia broke on the hour mark. Clearing their lines, Australia rolled the ball to McGree who played it forward after midfielder Irvine had sold a dummy. Leckie turned Maehle inside and outside before firing a placement through the defender’s legs that was beyond Schmeichel. On a night of nutmegs, it kept Australia in Doha and sent Denmark homeward bound.




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