Analysis: Aussie grit blunts Tunisia's attack in vital win

AL WAKRAH, Qatar, Nov 26 - A prankster, presumably with Tunisian allegiance, changed the north African country's World Cup page on Wikipedia to insert a 5-0 victory over Australia before their Group D match had even kicked off on Saturday.

What the culprit failed to take into account though was a superbly drilled Australian side that defended as if their lives depended on it to preserve a priceless 1-0 victory that gives them real hope of reaching the last 16.

With world champions France and Denmark favourites to progress from the group, Tunisia and Australia had targeted their clash in the Al Janoub Stadium as a must-win game.

But Australia edged the tactical battle in the first half to deny Tunisia's technicians the time on the ball they required and then, in the second half as Tunisia threw caution to the wind, Graham Arnold's side withstood the siege admirably.

No-one epitomised Australia's defensive grit more than 24-year-old Stoke City defender Harry Souttar, who made a sublime goal-saving sliding block before halftime and numerous crunching tackles late on as Tunisia poured forward.

Australia did such a great job of stifling Tunisia's three-man forward line that their keeper Mat Ryan did not have a single save to make until well past the hour mark.

But Australia's first World Cup victory in 12 years was not simply the result of a dogged rearguard action.

In Aaron Mooy they had the best midfielder on the pitch, the Celtic man pulling the strings and allowing Australia to boss possession in a first half in which they made clever use of the channels against a narrowly defending Tunisian outfit.

It was no surprise that Mitchell Duke's glancing header in the 23rd minute came from one of 12 crosses Australia attempted to deliver into the Tunisia box in the first half.

Despite the temperature hovering around 30 degrees Celsius, Australia's energy-levels barely dipped, although they were hanging on for the final 20 minutes as Tunisia, roared on by thousands of red-clad fans, laid siege to the goal.

"I'm hugely proud of the boys. They showed Aussie fighting spirit. They were in their faces all the time and I'm sure they made the nation very proud."

With three points and Denmark to come, Arnold's team can dream of reaching the last 16. For Tunisia, who did well to forge an opening 0-0 draw with Denmark, they will need to beat France to stand any chance of progressing.

In their last 10 games Tunisia's defence had only been breached by Brazil, but unless goal-scoring opportunities can be converted, any side's World Cup campaign is doomed to failure.

The 32-year-old striker Youssef Msakni, who has waited so long for his World Cup chance, will wonder how he did not score just before the break, steering a close-range shot wide.

Defeat means Tunisia have still only won two World Cup games and questions will surely be asked as to why coach Jalel Kadri opted not to give the country's second-highest goalscorer Wahbi Khazri more game time here in Qatar.

He was an unused substitute in the first match against Denmark and did not enter the fray on Saturday until the 67th minute when he replaced Aissa Laidounias.

By that stage Tunisia were desperately seeking a way through the massed Australian ranks, even lumping long balls forward.

Khazri's moment appeared to arrive late on when he connected with a low cross in from the right, but his shot flew straight at Ryan, summing up Tunisia's day.

"Australia were physically strong but we can't say we played a bad game," coach Kadri said. "We just weren't efficient."

Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Hugh Lawson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.