Denmark, in a must-win World Cup game kept prodding at Australia, creating an intricate wave of midfield passing and played the regular long balls over the top as well. But the goal never came.
The Aussies made them pay for their profligacy as Mathew Leckie received a ball from Riley McGree at the hour mark and bamboozled Joakim Maehle twice before scoring through his legs and past the outstretched Kasper Schmeichel. The second win of the campaign took the Socceroos to the knockouts despite Tunisia’s surprise win over France.
The Danes enjoyed 58 per cent ball possession and had six attempts in the first 45 minutes of play, but their forwards lost their sway whenever a scoring opportunity came. Mathias Jensen had one of their two shots on target as he caught one of those high balls and his shot from inside the box was theatrically punched out by Mat Ryan with 11 minutes played. A minute earlier, Kye Rowles came up with a quick interception from six yards to stop Jesper Lindstorm from shooting.
With Martin Braithwaite its third leading man in as many games, Denmark’s play in the final third lacked the incisiveness to punish the brave Aussie defence. Christian Eriksen, too, tried his luck in the 29th minute, but his punch, as well, was not on target.
A half chance came Australia’s way in the 32nd minute, but Jackson Irvine’s flicked long-range header went straight to Schmeichel.
Australia restarted with a little more positive intent but Irvine’s first-time effort after a pass from McGree went sailing to the stands behind.
And then came the magic from Leckie but Denmark still had enough chances. Denmark thought it had a penalty when Harry Souttar pushed Kasper Dolberg to the ground in the 71st minute. The referee initially pointed to the spot, but the linesman had correctly spotted Dolberg in an offside position. Two minutes later, substitute Andreas Cornelius headed out despite any little challenge from the Aussie defence.
The goal and the game were not meant for the Danes as the Aussies celebrated a rare foray into the knockout rounds of the World Cup – the first since 2006.