Written by Joel McMaster
After starting their match against France by being brave within their limitations and scoring through Craig Goodwin early on, the Socceroos ultimately fell back into a style that enabled them to continue their streak of being without a World Cup win since 2010. Instead of Graeme Arnold’s 11 boxing kangaroos, they looked more like 11 solid wombats, with ponderous progression the ball through midfield. Tellingly, their goal originated from a Harry Souttar diagonal from deep to Matthew Leckie who crossed for Goodwin to smash in the opener.
France soon realised that there was no need to press Australia high up the pitch as they would inevitably lose the ball in midfield and hand it back. For the majority of the game, Australia were more passive than the aggressive version that had been promised by the coaching staff, exemplified by the Socceroos’ paltry 12 entries into the opposition box, the lowest in any of Australia’s World Cup games to date. The French attack and their superior overall quality proved too much with Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele in particular (ably supported by early substitute Theo Hernandez) causing all sorts of troubles for fullbacks Nathaniel Atkinson and Aziz Behich.
The Socceroos now find themselves at the bottom of Group D, with a goal difference of negative three and Tunisia offer another stern test, whose 0-0 draw with Denmark proved to be an intriguing encounter. Unused to playing such a different, and non-European opposition, the added pressure of the ‘dark horse’ tag that many have slapped on the ample Danish behinds looked to be affecting them as they trotted out a sluggish performance. Tunisia, playing a 3-4-3, created the bulk of the first half chances, disproving the theory that they were likely to be solid but have little going forward.
However a change in coach after the qualifying campaign and exit from the African Cup of Nations seems to have done wonders. Jalel Kadri, formerly assistant coach to the outgoing Mondher Kebaier, has given the Carthage Eagles some pep in their step. Not only did they maintain their defensive solidity against the Danes, but they also sprung a number of lively counter attacks, lead by the exciting yet slightly profligate striker Issam Jebali, who should’ve scored with the number of chances that fell to him.
And herein lies the majestic beauty of the World Cup. Tunisia, riding high on an impressive yet ultimately unsatisfactory performance will want to take advantage of their momentum and are unlikely to make any changes to the side for their second match, bar a possible switch back to their preferred 3-4-3. Australia, after copping a shellacking against France, now face an entirely different, yet just as difficult proposition, and will be looking to play more on the front foot following their reductive approach in their first game. Consequently, Graeme Arnold is likely to make a number of changes to the side that played France, enforced or otherwise.
Nathaniel Atkinson has been ruled out at right back due to an ankle injury, with Fran Karacic named to start in his place. Jamie Maclaren and possibly Awer Mabil could come into the attack at the expense of Mitch Duke and Craig Goodwin, while Kye Rowles could be replaced by Bailey Wright at the back. Pending fitness, Australia’s best player, Ajdin Hrustic will come in for Riley McGree, who was nigh on anonymous against Les Bleus.
A word that perhaps encapsulates this alluring tie could be bravery. The Tunisians have shown it, the Australians need more of it. A loss for Australia, condemns them to another ignominious group stage exit, the end of Graeme Arnold’s reign as coach and another harsh reality check for Australian football. Tunisia, with the crowd behind them due to the significant expat population in Qatar, will be just as desperate to keep their World Cup hopes alive, and their palpable desire should not be ignored.
Given the high stakes, this could turn into one of those exciting end-to-end tournament contests that the YouTube algorithm will serve you in a few years time, as whoever loses, is almost certainly out of the tournament.
Predicted score: 2-2
Written by Joel McMaster