Australia and Tunisia are hungry to snatch a rare World Cup victory when they meet at Al Janoub Stadium on Saturday, knowing they could take a huge step towards the knockout stage.
After Australia were torched 4-1 by France, Graham Arnold will look to rouse his side for a clash with a Tunisia side who revelled in having huge support against Denmark, earning a 0-0 draw against the European Championship semi-finalists.
That result for Tunisia – just a second clean sheet for the team in 16 matches at the World Cup – has raised hopes of advancing beyond the group stage for the first time, at what is their sixth World Cup.
“We want to get past this round, this is our main objective, and we’re quite optimistic about achieving this goal,” said coach Jalel Kadri.
It is a lip-smacking opportunity for them against a Socceroos side who took the lead against France before being blown away by the firepower of the World Cup holders.
Australia have lost 11 of their 17 games at the World Cup (65 per cent), and have failed to win in their last seven outings on this stage, their longest winless streak in the competition.
11 – Australia now have a 65% loss rate at the #FIFAWorldCup (11/17), the joint-highest of any team to play at least 10 games (also Saudi Arabia); can they cut that rate down against Tunisia and Denmark? Chance.
— OptaJason (@OptaJason) November 23, 2022
Tunisia had just 38.7 per cent of the ball against Denmark and their passing accuracy in the opposition half was a disappointing 55.4 per cent; however, they won a healthy 55.8 per cent of duels.
Australia had just 37.6 per cent of possession against France, and the outcome of that game means they have now managed only one clean sheet in 17 World Cup games.
Kadri said: “We’re playing a strong group and today we have one point, and we should invest this energy we have in the next match as well.”
He said of the crowd’s raucous support for his team: “It gives us a great lift and we’re looking forward to seeing the fans continue to do that.”
Australia midfielder Jackson Irvine, who plays club football in Germany for St Pauli, wants to see a response after the France result.
He said: “To feel disappointed… is huge testament to the mentality of the group and that desire to win and get results, and it’s definitely something we have in us all the time and continue to have going into these next couple of huge games.”
Citing the “very different opposition”, Irvine predicted: “The game will flow in a totally different way.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tunisia – Issam Jebali
Jebali had Tunisia’s best opportunities in the Denmark game, with his three goal chances being worth a total of 0.53 expected goals (xG) out of a team total of 0.92. Denmark’s Andreas Cornelius (0.93) was the only player on the pitch with a higher xG score, having missed a golden close-range chance to win the game.
Tunisia will hope for Jebali to be sharper with his finishing against Australia. Kadri has Wahbi Khazri waiting in the wings, promising he will “get his chance”, with many surprised the Montpellier man played no part against Denmark.
Australia – Mat Ryan
Goalkeeper Ryan and winger Mathew Leckie could both make their eighth World Cup starts for Australia, setting a new national record at the finals.
Ryan suffered against France as Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud and Co made his day a misery, and he will be looking to earn a rare World Cup shut-out this time around.
Tunisia are given a 47.6 per cent chance of winning this one, while Australia have only a 25.6 per cent prospect of snatching the three points, according to Opta’s AI model.
The draw, therefore, is a 27.1 per cent possibility, but with the stakes so high, victory is imperative for both teams. A draw, you might imagine, would likely be a crushing blow to each team’s hopes of reaching the last-16 stage.
This will be just the third meeting between Tunisia and Australia – Australia won 3-0 in a friendly in 1997, before Tunisia won 2-0 at the 2005 Confederations Cup.