How Australia are Defying the Odds at the World Cup
Pre-tournament, Australia were a much-unfancied side at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Graham Arnold’s men were massive underdogs to get out of the group stages after a calamitous qualifying campaign. Here we take a look at how the Socceroos have turned things around.
In the run-up to the 2022 World Cup, there were several damning statistics mentioned on repeat about the Aussies, such as the fact that they hadn’t kept a World Cup finals clean sheet since 1974 as well as not winning a match since at this competition since 2010 when they beat Serbia 2-0. Australia also hadn’t made it out of the Group Stages since 2006 when they had the likes of Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill, Mark Viduka and co in their national side.
These were records that needed to be broken so that this footballing nation could start afresh and write new World Cup history.
Arnold’s Time as Manager of the Socceroos
Arnold took charge of Australia’s national team in 2018, having previously been a youth coach for the Socceroos, as well as assistant manager on three separate occasions, including in 2006 to Guus Hiddink.
The 59-year-old comes from Sydney in New South Wales and had an established playing career in Europe, as after eight years at Sydney United, he played for Dutch outfits such as Roda JC and NAC Breda on top of having short spells in Belgium with Liege and Charleroi.
On top of this, Arnold has a good reputation in the Australian A-League, having won the Premiership three times, as well as the Championship twice, doing so with Sydney FC and Central Coast Mariners. But, the biggest challenge of his career was yet to come.
Since the Golden Generation of 2006, Australia had finished as the 21st best team at the 2010 World Cup, as well as 30th in both 2014 and 2018, being eliminated at the group stages - before 2006, Australia’s last World Cup outing was in 1974 where they also failed to make it to the knockout stages.
Arnold came into this tournament under huge pressure, having underachieved as coach, following their quarter-final exit in the Asian Cup in 2019 to where they finished second to Jordan in Group B, before beating Uzbekistan on penalties in the Round of 16 prior to a 1-0 quarter-finals defeat to the UAE - these performances were seen as humiliating.
On top of this, despite Australia finishing as Group B winners in the Second Round of World Cup qualifying, they would go on to finish third in Group B in the Third Round, behind the likes of Saudi Arabia and Japan by a margin of seven and eight points. This saw them beat Oman to the play-off spot by just one point as the Socceroos won just four of their ten matches.
Despite leaving themselves in a poor position, Arnold’s men somewhat redeemed themselves by beating the UAE in the semi-finals 2-1 thanks to goals from Jackson Irvine and Ajdin Hrustic, before facing Peru in the final, where they defeated the South Americans on penalties after a 0-0 draw, as Andrew Redmayne famously danced on the goal-line in an attempt to try and put Peru’s players off.
Australia’s Best World Cup Campaign Since 2006
In the 2006 World Cup, Australia’s ‘Golden Generation’ qualified for the Round of 16 as runners-up in Group F, behind then-world champions, Brazil, with four points to their name ahead of the likes of Croatia and Japan. Noticeably, Tim Cahill was their top scorer with two goals, having bagged a brace in their 3-1 win over Japan.
But, Australia’s hearts were broken as they were knocked out in the first knockout round to eventual champions Italy as Francesco Totti scored a 95th-minute penalty.
This time around, the Socceroos were right up against it, having been drawn in Group D alongside reigning world champions in France, as well as Euro 2020 semi-finalists Denmark and African side Tunisia who were runners-up in the final of the 2021 Arab Cup.
Australia started their opening match with a bang, as Craig Goodwin scored early on against France, but, a goal from Adrien Rabiot, as well as a brace from Olivier Giroud on either side of a Kylian Mbappe goal saw them crash back down to earth and have to refocus their mind on upcoming fixtures over Tunisia and Denmark.
Tunisia was next up in a must-win match, as the Aussies found themselves bottom of the group following their opponent's 0-0 draw with Denmark on matchday one. A 23rd-minute goal from Mitchell Duke of J-League side Fagiano Okayama was enough to seal a historic win, as it was their first at the finals in 12 years while being the first time that they had kept a clean sheet at the tournament since drawing 0-0 with Chile at the 1974 edition of this competition.
During this match, Australia came under intense pressure late on, but, some superb displays by the likes of Harry Souttar of Stoke City and Celtic’s Aaron Mooy helped them battle through for the victory.
Arnold’s side entered match day three knowing that they would have to beat Denmark, should Tunisia pull off a shock victory over France, or draw with the Danes should the Eagles of Carthage fail to beat the world champions.
Typically of this World Cup, Tunisia managed a stunning 1-0 victory over France as ex-Sunderland man Wahbi Khazri scored the only goal of the game, meaning Australia would have to beat Kasper Hjulmand’s men. Just moments after hearing the Tunisia score, Matthew Leckie of Melbourne City scored a superb solo goal to give the Socceroos a lead that they would hold onto for the rest of the match.
This incredible achievement will see Australia paired with pre-tournament favourites Argentina in the Round of 16. Could they cause another shock and make this their outright best tournament to date? Who knows what could be in store, especially after seeing Lionel Scaloni’s men lose 2-1 to Saudi Arabia on matchday one.
Australia's Statistics at the 2022 World Cup
Heading into Qatar 2022, Australia were ranked 38th in FIFA’s World Rankings, with only Canada (41st), Cameroon (43rd), Ecuador (44th), Qatar (50th), Saudi Arabia (51st) and Ghana (61st) ranked worse than the Socceroos.
This World Cup has seen Australia have their best points record in the group stage with six to their name.
Australia advanced to the Round of 16 despite conceding the most xG of any side in the competition, giving up 5.97 worth of chances. However, it must be noted that France created 4.20 xG, while Tunisia had 1.10 and Denmark just 0.67.
The Socceroos' best game in terms of xG created was the 0.7 they managed against Denmark, this was the only game where they had a positive xG, having created just 0.61 versus Tunisia and 0.59 in their opening match with France.
Across their three matches, the Aussies average seven shots per game, but, have shown that they are clinical, scoring twice from a total of two goals from 1.9 xG, meaning that they have a shot-to-goal conversion rate of 14%.
On average, Australia have had 37% possession as they prefer to sit in a more defensive shape. Arnold’s men also average 15.7 tackles per game, 10.7 interceptions and 30,3 clearances. Souttar has played a huge part in their success, with performance ratings of 7.7 and 7.4 against Tunisia and Denmark via Sofascore.
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