AL WAKRAH – Mitchell Duke celebrated scoring Australia's winning goal by forming a “J” with his fingers in a tribute to his son Jaxson, who was in the stands.
Coach Graham Arnold dragged injured winger Martin Boyle — on crutches — into the celebratory huddle as fans sang merrily along to Men at Work’s “Down Under,” blaring over the stadium speakers after the final whistle.
Later, Arnold was wiping away tears.
It was an emotion-filled day for Australia, which beat Tunisia 1-0 Saturday for only its third win in 18 World Cup matches.
Duke gave Australia the lead midway through the first half with a header.
“I actually was messaging some of my family, saying that I was going to score today, and I told my son that I was going to be able to share this moment with him and get that celebration,” Duke said. “I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently he did it back to me from the stadium, which was a really special moment that I’m going to treasure for the rest of my life.”
Australia hadn't won at the World Cup since beating Serbia in 2010 and it means the Socceroos still have a chance to qualify for the round of 16, despite losing to defending champion France 4-1 in their opening match.
Boyle was injured a few weeks before the tournament and Arnold explained why he moved him into the team’s staff as “vibe manager” in Qatar.
“To keep all the guys up, because he’s one of the most fantastic blokes you’ll ever meet,” Arnold said. “There was no way he wanted to go home, and no way I wanted to send him home. He deserves it more than anybody for what he did in the qualifying campaign.”
France leads Group D with a full six points after beating Denmark 2-1 in Saturday's other group game. Australia is next with three points, while Denmark and Tunisia trail with one point each.
In the final round of group games on Wednesday, Tunisia will play France and Australia will meet Denmark.
After a scrappy start from both sides, Australia went ahead with a play that started at the back. Duke collected the goalkeeper’s pass near the middle of the field and made a quick touch to set Craig Goodwin down the left flank. Duke then sprinted forward to nod Goodwin’s deflected cross into the far corner with his back to the goal.
The score quieted the large contingent of red-clad Tunisia fans among the crowd of 41,823 inside Al Janoub Stadium, and sent the small pockets of Australian supporters dressed in yellow into delirium.
Tunisia impressed when it held European Championship semifinalist Denmark to a 0-0 draw in its opener, but only occasionally threatened against Australia until the Aussies sat back and defended toward the end.
Australia had also gotten off to an early 1-0 lead over France in its opener, but then was outplayed in a loss which it blamed on a series of defensive errors.
There were fewer errors this time, and some timely interventions, too — none bigger than a last-gasp sliding clearance from center back Harry Souttar to block Mohamed Dräger’s dangerous shot shortly before halftime.
Tunisia is still seeking to advance from the group stage for the first time in its sixth World Cup appearance, but now needs to beat France.
“This edition of the World Cup has had surprises for everyone. The larger squads have been defeated,” Tunisia coach Jalel Kadri said. “We still have one more match to go and we’ll play our hearts out.”
Still not sure of advancing, Arnold warned his players in his post-match speech about getting too excited.
“I just said, ’No doubt the nation is extremely proud, but we’ve done nothing. You’ve achieved something we can talk about when we get home. I don’t want any celebration. Just enjoy these couple of minutes on the pitch with the fans. Then ice baths, recover and get ready for the next one,'” Arnold said.
Fans watching at home in Australia witnessed the win in a rare World Cup match shown in prime time on a Saturday night Down Under.
“There’s one or two teams that bring the nation together and that is the Socceroos and the Matildas," Arnold said, using the nicknames for Australia's men's and women's national teams. "When the Socceroos play at World Cups, AFL fans, rugby league fans, cricket fans; they all become football fans. And I can imagine the celebrations that are going on at home. … I think they’ll be a few hangovers in the morning.”
During the second half, Tunisia fans held aloft a large Palestinian flag with the words “Free Palestine” printed on it.
Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf