AAP Image/Con Chronis
A stunning solo goal from Mathew Leckie has sunk Denmark 1-0 and sent Australia into the World Cup knockout stage for just the second time.
Leckie’s superb left-footed strike ensures the Socceroos follow the feats of the so-called golden generation in 2006 in reaching the round of 16.
“It’s first time ever an Australian team has won two games of the World Cup in a row,” coach Graham Arnold said.
“Maybe we’re talking about a new golden generation now because we’ve been listening and hearing about the golden generation of 2006 who got four points – and now we’ve got six.”
Leckie, arguably Australia’s best World Cup performer over his three tournaments, entered football folklore with the match-winner at Al Janoub Stadium on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT).
The stalwart, played into space by Riley McGree, broke an hour-long deadlock with his own Danish slice – he ran, teased and then turned his marker Joakim Maehle after gathering some 30 metres from goal.
First to his right, then onto his left, Leckie twisted and turned and fired a low left-footer to spark jubilation.
“As the ball was rolling in, I saw it going in, I was so excited and so happy,” Leckie said.
“By the celebration, you see how much emotion there was.”
Australia will meet the winners of group C on Saturday night (0600 Sunday AEDT) – it looms as the victor of Argentina’s clash with Poland later on Wednesday (from 0600 AEDT Thursday).
Poland (four points) currently head Lionel Messi’s Argentina (three points) with Saudi Arabia (three points) trailing on goal difference.
Leckie’s timing was perfect in more ways than one.
In the other simultaneous game in Australia’s group, outsiders Tunisia had scored just three minutes earlier against holders France, who rested almost their entire first-choice side.
The Tunisian goal – they would ultimately win 1-0 – momentarily lifted them to second in the group behind the French only for Leckie to restore the Socceroos into that prized slot.
Defender Milos Degenek was informed by sideline staff of the Tunisia score and, while the Australians celebrated Leckie’s rapid retort, told his teammates.
They didn’t believe him.
“The boys thought it was my psyching them up so we won’t lose,” Degenek said.
“But it was actually me being serious.”
Leckie and his captain Mat Ryan, barring injury, will break the Australian record for most cup games in the knockout encounter.
Against the Danes, the duo both made their ninth cup appearance, equalling Tim Cahill and Marco Bresciano’s record.
“We’re an ambitious group,” Ryan said.
“Because while everyone is enjoying the victory post-match out on the pitch but the comments are already coming out – we’re not done yet.
“We want to keep going, we want to make this chapter as special as can be.”
Goalkeeper Ryan was called into action early as the Socceroos, lacking early spark, were forced to repel a series of first-half attacks from the Danes, ranked 10th in the world, some 28 slots higher than Australia.
But the tide turned in the second half after an Arnold revving.
“I’m just so proud of the players,” Arnold said.
“The work ethic, the commitment, the fight that they had and the way they played.”