World Cup 2022 Diary: Day 11. Australia 1 Denmark 0, France 0 Tunisia 1, Saudi Arabia 1 Mexico 2, Poland 0 Argentina 2. A stunning win for Australia saw the Socceroos advance from the World Cup group stage.
By Dave Bowler
And so it was that all the obituaries written for Argentina at this World Cup proved to be premature. Indeed, Group C worked out pretty much as most predicted beforehand. Argentina topped it and Poland qualified, narrowly, from Mexico, but did it ever take the long and winding road to get there.
ARGENTINA WIN GROUP C
Argentina’s win over Mexico transformed everything, setting them up to qualify by beating Poland. Poland, on the other hand, topping the group as we went into the final games, seemed to have no ambition beyond a 0-0 draw, keeping 10 men behind the ball at all times, leaving Lewandowski to operate in the sort of isolation he won’t have experienced since the last Covid lockdown.
By the interval, it was so far, so good, for although Poland had offered nothing to the game, thanks to Szczesny’s brilliant save from Messi’s penalty, the score was 0-0. A couple of half-time changes suggested a more proactive approach, but that was pretty much down the drain within a minute of the restart as Mac Allister swept Argentina into the lead.
TENSE DAY FOR MEXICO & POLAND FANS
That meant yet more uncertainty within the Polish ranks because at that point, a Saudi Arabian win would knock them out, Salvation came not from a Lewandowski goal but from a Martin one instead, as Mexico took the lead over the Saudis within a minute. Now Poland had a two goal difference cushion over Mexico.
That was halved five minutes later when Chavez made it 2-0 to Mexico. When Alvarez made it 2-0 to Argentina in the 67th minute, now it was time to dig out the competition regulations. Locked together on points, goal difference and goals scored, the only way of separating Mexico and Poland was on disciplinary points, the Poles keeping their noses in front.
POLAND SCRAPE THROUGH
For the remaining half an hour, Poland had to walk the tightrope of not conceding, not getting booked and offering up plenty of prayers that Mexico wouldn’t score again. They didn’t, conceding late on to the Saudis and allowing Poland to complete an unconvincing passage into the last 16.
While that drama was playing out, it rather obscured the fact that Argentina are starting to look rather more like the side we expected them to be. They’re still not quite firing on all cylinders but this was as routine a win as any side has a right to expect at a World Cup. They’ve done enough to get through the group, which is the first requirement, but they’ve also come through the fire of losing their first game and taking the criticism that comes with it. They’re not looking like World Cup winners just yet, but in the group stages, you don’t have to.
TUNISIA ENJOY RARE WIN OVER FRANCE
It doesn’t matter how good you are, no side can simply change pretty much all its players and hope to pick up from where the other lot left off. That was the lesson that France reminded us of during the early games today as they fell victim to Tunisia, losing the game 1-0. It appeared briefly as if they had snatched a draw at the death, but Griezmann’s goal was chalked off for offside by VAR and Tunisia were able to enjoy the feeling of beating the reigning world champions – and who knows, they might be the only ones to enjoy that particular emotion at this World Cup.
From the French viewpoint, it didn’t really matter having already qualified for the next round, as the group winners. Even so, no team likes to lose a game, as the French underlined when they brought on the cavalry midway through the second half after falling behind.
FRENCH UTILIZE DEEP SQUAD
Giving minutes on the pitch to squad players may prove a masterstroke for the French. That is if they go deeper and deeper into the tournament. Also, it’s also a useful reminder that victory should never be taken for granted. I doubt they will do that against Poland on Sunday. That’s a game they should have little trouble in coming through.
For Tunisia, it was a memorable win from a game where only three points would do. Ghandri had a goal disallowed in the first half for a hairline offside call, but Khazi did give the lead just before the hour point, wriggling past a couple of challenges before squeezing the ball just inside the post. From there they hung on and hung on and it would have been a hard heart that begrudged them that win when Griezmann’s goal was dramatically ruled out. They’d earned it.
AUSTRALIA STUN DENMARK
Sadly for them, it was all in vain as Australia produced a mammoth performance to beat Denmark and book their place in the last 16 instead. Although the Danes dominated possession, they could find no way through the Aussies who fought for every ball, chased down every tackle and simply would not give way.
The longer the game went on, the more haggard the Danes looked, enduring a nightmarish World Cup to rank with that of Wales. They had plenty of the ball and got forward regularly but were never really able to work Ryan in the Australian goal.
Within moments of Tunisian taking the lead over France and going second in the group, Australia had overtaken them. A brilliantly sprung counter-attack left Leckie bearing down on the Danish goal and after twisting and turning past two defenders, he speared his shot across Schmeichel and just inside the far post. From there, Denmark tried to find a way back into the game, and the two goals the needed, but there was never any conviction to their play and it was no surprise to see them beaten. It’s been a grim, surprisingly bloodless tournament for them.
For Australia though, it’s a first knockout stage in 16 years and a step towards wrestling the mantle of best ever Australian side from the Socceroos of 2006, which would be some achievement. It’s their misfortune that lying in wait on Saturday are the improving Argentines. For those of you who like your omens, when Australia reached the last 16 in 2006, they came up against Italy, losing 1-0. That Italian side went on to lift the trophy. Will Messi’s Argentina do the same? I might not bet on it just yet, but the odds are certainly shortening.
Read Dave Bowler’s World Cup round up every day
Sir Alf Ramsey: England 1973 focuses on the final full year of Sir Alf’s reign as England boss. The nation that won the World Cup in 1966 failed to even qualify for the 1974 tournament. Ramsey was suddenly a man out of time, both on and off the pitch. The failing fortunes of the England team mirrored those of a post-Empire nation heading for its own a fall.
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