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Thursday 9 February 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Xinhua News Agency/PA Images Mitch Duke celebrates after his goal against Tunisia.
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'I was messaging my family saying I was going to score' - Australia's heroic match-winner
Mitch Duke nabbed the crucial goal that fired his side to victory over Tunisia.

GOAL HERO MITCH Duke said he had a feeling he would score after his header gave dogged Australia a 1-0 World Cup win over Tunisia on Saturday to revive their last-16 hopes.

The striker’s clever looped header in Qatar put Australia in front in the 23rd minute and they desperately held on in the second half to silence Tunisia’s vociferous fans.

The Socceroos sit second in Group D with three points from two games, having been well-beaten 4-1 by holders France in their tournament opener.

They face Denmark — who play France later Saturday — in their final group game and the knockout round is in sight.

“As a striker you need to have that confidence and believe that you can score in every match,” said Japan-based centre-forward Duke, 31, whose physical presence was a nuisance all game to Tunisia.

“I actually was messaging some of my family saying that I was going to score today.”

Duke made the letter “J” after scoring and said that was for his watching son.

“The gesture was a letter J for the first letter of his name,” said Duke.

“I haven’t seen it yet but apparently he did it back to me from the stadium, which was a really special moment and I’m going to treasure it for the rest of my life.”

Australia’s best previous World Cup performance came in 2006 when they reached the last 16, in the days of Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka.

Graham Arnold’s Australia don’t have players of that ilk but they have lots of heart and kicked off to deafening whistles in front of 42,000 at Al Janoub Stadium, where their fans were heavily outnumbered.

Each Australia touch was met with whistles from the throbbing ranks of Tunisia’s bouncing, bellowing and flag-waving supporters.

Australia had only ever won two matches at the World Cup before this and squeezed into this edition via a playoff.

But they started the better against a Tunisia team who held Denmark 0-0 in their opener and are looking to reach the knockout stage for the first time.

The match was being shown on primetime Saturday night television in Australia and viewers saw their gritty side dominate the first half.

Australia took the lead their possession deserved midway through the first half.

Craig Goodwin, who scored the opener in the loss to France, crossed from the left and the ball ricocheted for Duke to glance his header back over his own shoulder and into the net.

Defender Harry Souttar of Stoke City then made a heroic last-ditch block from the dangerous Youssef Msakni as half-time approached.

Tunisia’s fans had their heads in their hands in injury time when Msakni finally escaped Souttar, only to sidefoot wide from close range.

Coach Jalel Kadri brought off defender Mohamed Drager at the break and replaced him with a midfielder, Ferjani Sassi, and a match that had simmered up to that point threatened to boil over.

Australia were playing on the break and were inches away from a second late but Mathew Leckie could not connect on a low cross as he slid in front of goal.

Minutes later goalkeeper and skipper Mathew Ryan denied Msakni from close range and Australia just about held on under intense pressure.

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Tunisia’s World Cup campaign is in deep trouble and they face a daunting task in their final group game after taking just one point from two matches.

They must beat the defending champions France to have any hope of progressing.

“It was crucial for both teams to win today, we did not perform as we wanted to in the first half,” said Kadri.

“They dominated the first half. We changed tactics two or three times in the second half and had four or five chances but could not score.

“They were efficient in converting their chance, we were not.”

As for France, Kadri pledged: “We will play our hearts out.”

– © AFP 2022

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