Far from being discouraged about a heartbreaking opening loss to France, Australia is confident going into another tough World Cup match against Denmark.
The plucky underdog label seems to inspire the Socceroos.
Australia fell 2-1 to the French on Saturday in Kazan. But the scoreline didn’t reflect the Australian team’s gritty defensive performance against the 1998 World Cup champions and highest-ranked team in the group.
Antoine Griezmann scored in the 58th minute following a contentious penalty — the first awarded at the World Cup under the video review system. The referee didn’t pick up the initial foul, but awarded the penalty after watching a replay on a sideline TV monitor.
Australia captain Mile Jedinak equalized from from the penalty spot before Paul Pogba’s deflected shot hit the cross bar and crossed the line in the 81st to clinch the win for France. The goal was confirmed by goal-line technology, and FIFA later credited it as an own goal.
While struggling to accept Griezmann’s PK, Australia coach Bert van Marwijk remained positive overall heading into Thursday’s match at Samara Stadium. “When you see this game you must have confidence for the rest of the tournament,” van Marwijk said.
But it’s an admittedly difficult journey. France and Denmark lead Group C with wins, while Peru rounds out the group. Australia, the lowest-ranked team in the group at No. 36, is vying to advance out of the group stage for the first time since 2006.
Denmark, returning to the World Cup after missing out on Brazil, is coming off a 1-0 victory over Peru on Saturday in Saransk. Yuffus Poulsen, who plays for German club RB Leipzig, scored the lone goal.
The 12th-ranked Danes, who beat Mexico 2-0 in an exhibition before the start of the World Cup, reached the quarterfinals in 1998.
The opening victory over Peru did have a cost: Starting midfielder William Kvist fractured two ribs and is likely to miss the rest of the tournament. Kvist was injured in a hard collision with Peru’s Jefferson Farfan
Australian defender Trent Sainsbury spoke to the media in Kazan before heading to Samara, reinforcing the team’s confident outlook going into the team’s second match.
“Coming away from the France game, it’s refueled us and we can tango with the best,” Sainsbury said. “I know the boys are running on a high at the moment, but I don’t think that’s going to change until after the last game against Peru and we’ll see where we are then.”
Danish defender Jonas Knudsen made an unexpected side trip home following the victory over Peru. That’s because wife Trine gave birth to the couple’s daughter — who wasn’t due for a few more weeks.
Knudsen’s teammates funded the private plane to whisk him back to Denmark for a day to meet his child. He rejoined the team on Monday.
KERR WEIGHS IN
Australian women’s national team forward Sam Kerr took a look at the Socceroos in a piece for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s ABC Grandstand.
“I really wasn’t sure how we would do this tournament, I didn’t know where our team was at and had no idea how the other teams would show,” she wrote. “After watching our game and the Peru-Denmark game I am pretty confident we can advance from our group.”
Kerr has seen her own World Cup success. The Matildas, as Australia’s women’s team is known, advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup in Canada.
Australia midfielder Daniel Arzani is the youngest player at the World Cup, at 19 years and five months.
He said the magnitude of the occasion hit him when the boisterous yellow-clad Australian fans all sang the nation’s national anthem before the match against France.
“Your heart is pumping through your chest and you realized the gravity of the situation — you’re here representing the whole nation on the biggest stage,” he said. “It is emotional but I’m also very proud to be a part of it.”
Denmark is unbeaten in its last 16 international matches. The last loss was in October 2016 against Montenegro (1-0 in Copenhagen).