Australia inspired at World Cup: Kye Rowles performance, Nathaniel Atkinson absence, Martin Boyle celebration, Jackson Irvine reaction
Hearts full-back Nathaniel Atkinson was a notable absentee, but teammate Kye Rowles turned in a towering performance for Australia against Tunisia to give the Socceroos an opportunity to reach the last 16 of a World Cup for the first time.
After Mitchell Duke’s header secured a famous 1-0 victory, Australia have chance to reach the knockout stages of the tournament in Qatar going into their final Group D game is against Denmark on Wednesday. The Socceroos will qualify in second place if they avoid defeat against the Danes – as long as Tunisia don’t defeat France.
Rowles marshalled the defence superbly alongside Aberdeen-born former Ross County defender Harry Souttar, with pundit Danny Murphy impressed on BBC commentary by his work during a late surge of Tunisian attacks as Graham Arnold's side dug deep to claim a precious win. “I am proud of the boys,” said the manager. We showed that great, fighting Aussie spirit.
“We got in their faces and I hope we made the nation very proud. The effort level was incredible. It's huge. I couldn't be prouder of them. We had great support and as I said to the boys, we have achieved one win, it's nothing, we have more to do.”
Hearts midfielder Cammy Devlin was an unused substitute but joined in a raucous celebration on the pitch at full-time. Hibs forward Martin Boyle, who had to withdraw from the squad due to a knee injury, joined in too and was on crutches in the middle of a team huddle on the pitch alongside Arnold as the manager delivered a passionate speech to congratulate his squad.
It is a squad filled with fight and fire, team spirit playing a huge part in the their success. That’s the view of Jackson Irvine, the former Hibs and Ross County midfielder who also played a key role in the match. "We always talk about wanting to be the team that brings the quality on top of everything else, but it was about harnessing that fight and that spirit, and we did it in abundance," Irvine said. "It's very much the heart of what this team, over the years, has been through.
"When you're out there, at certain times and in certain games, you just know that it's our day. It felt like it from the beginning. Everyone was just exceptional. The tackles, big moments, big players producing moments that will be iconic going forward. You've got to love it. You've got to enjoy it. That's the best part of the game: being involved in that kind of stuff and seeing it on each other's faces.”
Celtic midfielder Aaron Mooy, Dundee United's Aziz Behich and Rowles started, while former County pair Irving and Souttar were also in the starting XI, with St Mirren's Keanu Baccus coming off the bench.
Atkinson started the Australia’s Group C opener against France and was given a very tough night by PSG superstar Kylian Mbappe as the world champions recovered from a goal down to win 1-0. However, the 23-year-old missed the Tunisia game after picking up an ankle injury against France.
His participation in the rest of the tournament is now in doubt, Atkinson having arrived in Qatar after overcoming an ankle injury he sustained playing for Hearts.