The Socceroos: The unlikely heroes heading into the Round of 16 of the World Cup. In a group with very challenging teams, Australia is the second team in this World Cup to come out of their group stage as the underdogs.
Soccer in Australia is not the most popular sport in the country. In 2021, soccer was the 7th most popular sport. However, soccer is the most popular team sport for women in Australia. The Matildas are 13th in the female FIFA rankings while also producing one of the best female players in the world Sam Kerr. They recently finished fourth place in the 2020 Olympic games.
The men’s side has not produced the best soccer players in recent times. Their last golden age was back in 2006 with the likes of Tim Cahill and Craig Moore. Australia has not devoted any time to produce a competitive pool of soccer players since their time. They qualified for every World Cup since 2006, the year they made it out of the group stage. Since then, they were eliminated from the group stage each time.
Australia wants to break that streak after their upset win against Peru during the AFC-CONMBEL play-off match. It was not going to be easy as they had 2018 World Cup winners France with the 2020 Euro Cup semi-finalists Denmark in the same group. They were projected to come in last place as they are the lowest-ranked team in the group at 38.
The Socceroos shocked the world after they scored against France to take the lead during their first match. However, they struggled to defend their lead by allowing four goals to France to lose their first match. They came back from their defeat to pull an upset against Tunisia 1-0 with an early goal from Mitchell Duke.
With Denmark tying against Tunisia and losing to France, all the Socceroos had to do was either tie or beat Denmark to make it through the next round. Denmark came out strong, but it was not enough to crack the Socceroos. A goal by Michael Leckie in the 60th minute sealed the win for Australia, advancing them to their first knockout round in 16 years.
It was 3:30 am local time in Australia when celebrations broke out in the country. This proves why Andrew McDonald’s team consists of an unlikely group of players who can play brilliant football. Goalkeeper Mathew Ryan completed two clean sheets in a row with main center defender Harry Souttar being one of the best defenders in the World Cup thus far with 20 clearances, the second most in the tournament
The Socceroos will now face Argentina on Saturday. This will not be an easy match, especially since losing to France 4-1. Regardless, Australia has had a great tournament and proved experts wrong about soccer in Australia. The sport will grow even bigger in popularity next summer as the nation will co-host the Women’s World Cup with New Zealand in the summer of 2023.