The Socceroos have delivered one of the greatest moments in Australian sport with a historic win over Denmark on Thursday morning.
Australia moved through to the Round of 16 in thrilling fashion after a rollercoaster 1-0 victory at the Al Janoub Stadium. A sublime goal from Mathew Leckie in the 60th minute changed everything — and it has the potential to change Australian football.
The country is bursting with pride and admiration for coach Graham Arnold’s team — and their fighting, underdog spirit.
What a difference a week makes. The Socceroos — and particularly Arnold — were heavily criticised for failing to show courage in their humbling loss to France in the tournament opener.
It sparked accusations the Socceroos were “timid”. Suddenly they look like the bravest athletes Australia has.
Led by central defender Harry Souttar, Australia defended for its life to move through to the knockout stage for just the second time at the World Cup.
It is a result almost nobody saw coming.
Australia had not made it out of the group stages since the golden generation of Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill in 2006.
Now Graham Arnold’s men have done the same, without the bells and whistles. They’ve gone even better, in fact, with six points from their two victories the best group stage result Australia has ever had.
It is also the first time Australia has ever won back-to-back matches at the World Cup.
Even before arriving in Qatar, Arnold’s men were largely written off and told they were the “weakest” squad Australia has had for decades.
It’s what makes Arnold’s achievement so special and so Australian.
Emotional words from Milos Degenek at full time showed exactly that.
“Every ball is like the last ball, you defend for your life,” he said.
“It’s like trying to block bullets that are going to hit your family. That’s what we’re doing. We’re blocking, throwing bodies at it.”
Graham Arnold says ‘we’ve achieved nothing’
Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has revealed the reward he’ll allow his players for Australia’s best result at a World Cup, and it’s not much.
After England beat Wales 3-0 to top Group B, manager Gareth Southgate said he’ll allow his players a milkshake as a treat.
But Arnold was having none of it.
When asked what he’d allow his players, he held up a bottle of water.
“Bottle of water,” he joked.
“We’re in a fantastic facility – Aspire – where we can’t get out anyway.”
After the Tunisia win, Arnold got the players in a circle and told them they’d achieved nothing and there was still one more game.
Unsurprisingly the message was exactly the same before a potential meeting with Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
“I said exactly the same, because I truly believe it,” he said.
Arnold suggested Japan and Saudi Arabia over-celebrating after upset wins against Germany and Argentina respectively may have been why they lost their next game.
“You look at Japan, you look at Saudi and look at underdogs. They achieve something and get a great result, they’re celebrating and they’re very emotional,” he said.
“And again I hate saying this, but they go on social media until 4-5 in the morning, reading all these comments and pats on the back.
“I’ve been around long enough, the most important thing is recovery, (good) sleep and making sure you’re ready for the next game.”
Pundits react: ‘I didn’t think this was possible’
Socceroos fans and pundits could not have been more proud.
“Can you believe it Australia?!? Can you actually believe it,” Australian football commentator Lucy Zelic posted on Twitter.
“What a REMARKABLE moment! We’re off to the round of 16! This group did it the hard way and we went to this World Cup with mere hope in our hearts but they’ve done it.
“Bravo @Socceroos – we’re so proud of you.”
Seven News sport reporter Lucas Rinaldo also suggested the performance typified Australian heart.
“For Johnny (Warren). For Les (Murray). We joked about ‘Aussie DNA’ – its real and it defies description. The impossible is possible – the improbables do it again,” he wrote on Twitter.
Journalist Angus Livingston wrote: “Denmark had players who play for Manchester United, Barcelona, AC Milan, Leeds, Tottenham, Sevilla…. but ZERO A-League players”.
Former Mariners coach Phil Moss was full of praise for Arnold: “Still digesting enormity of
@Socceroos result here in Qatar.
“Coaches have approx 11 minutes to earn their money at 1/2 time in big matches – take a bow Arnie! Baccus on + tactical tweak to get more pressure on the ball a real game-changer.
“Belief, culture & more quality than they are given credit for. A huge moment in Australian sporting history.”
Stars from across all walks of life woke up early to watch and were equally in awe of the performance.
Andy Lee wrote on Twitter: You bloody ripper!!! Epic @Socceroos. Everyone, take the rest of the week off. Except the team… you keep working”.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stopped short of announcing a national public holiday. “Magnificent win by the Socceroos,” he said.
AFL great Brendan Fevola wrote: Let’s gooooooooo @Socceroos. Aussie Aussie Aussie”.
Sport broadcaster Andy Maher said he was in tears.
“Monumental. Well done @Socceroos. Credit to Arnie. Australia’s wall (Harry Soutarr) is greater than China’s. And where do we put the Matt Leckie statue? Tears of joy,” he said.
Socceroos great Rob Cornthwaite posted: Absolutely incredible! How f***ing good are these boys @Socceroos.
“I never felt like Denmark were a genuine goal threat. Lads defended the box with their lives.
“I didn’t think this was possible a few months ago. Arnie and the boys outstanding.”
Socceroos great Robbie Slater also posted: Unbelievable! Fantastic! Wow. Who would’ve believed it. Well obviously they did.”
Former Socceroo Clint Bolton called it a “heroic performance”.
Belgian tennis legend Kim Clijsters was also cheering on her adopted second-home.
“Aussies, Congrats! Nerve wracking last few minutes but what an amazing effort by the Socceroos,” she posted.
SBS football reporter Adrian Arculi called it “the ultimate underdog story”.
“The history makers,” he wrote on Twitter.
“One of the biggest moments in australian sporting history. The ultimate underdog story.”
It doesn’t get more Australian than that.