Tunisia v Australia
Matchday 1 sent the Socceroos crashing back down to earth after they were trounced by France courtesy of a Kylian Mbappé masterclass. Australia will need a result against Tunisia to keep their Round of 16 hopes alive. While the Green and Gold Army turned up in numbers for the opening match, Australia’s fans are set to be dwarfed by those of Tunisia who have brought a strong contingent to Qatar. Australia’s main aim will be to replicate the swashbuckling opening 25 minutes which saw them take the lead against Les Bleus. Buoyed by confidence, fight and belief, Australia sought to outrun and outgun France before their hopes were quashed within the space of three minutes as France twice punished Australia for individual errors. Nathaniel Atkinson had a torrid time defending Mbappé and could make way for Fran Karačić against Tunisia. The Socceroos will likely welcome back mercurial playmaker Ajdin Hrustić who was sidelined for the opening game through injury. Perceived by many as Australia’s best player, Hrustić will give Graham Arnold’s side an added edge of technical ability in midfield, an area where they struggled against France. Australia will find joy in isolating their wingers against Tunisia’s full-backs as Craig Goodwin and Mathew Leckie combined for the side’s sublime opening goal at Al Janoub Stadium.
Tunisia performed wonderfully against Denmark. Dominated throughout. They are expected to be just as fierce. They came close to winning against a fierce team so they will try to throw all their might at Australia. Tunisia consider themselves favourites over their opponents. Australia suffered a heavy defeat against the French and the Tunisian know this. They understand that their friends from the land down under will try to bounce back up and get back in the race. However, Tunisia has seen what Saudi Arabia did, what they themselves did against Denmark and already calculating possible scenarios for a historical qualification and making it past the group stage.
Expect a victory for Tunisia against Australia, albeit perhaps a narrow one.
At 1.5 odds seems like a reasonable safe bet. He has tried on many occasions to find the back of the net against Denmark and he will do the same against Australia. The Odense frontman managed a total of three shots in the closely fought content against Denmark, with one of them hitting the target. He will be the main man making all the shots and scoring attempts.
Objectively Australia’s best and most technically gifted player, Ajdin Hrustić was sorely missed against France as he continues to battle with an ankle injury sustained against AC Milan while playing for Hellas Verona in Italy’s Serie A. Hrustić is a dead-ball specialist and often finds himself as the player tasked with challenging the opposition goalkeeper via direct free-kicks. He is also superb at ghosting into the penalty area and meeting crosses from Australia’s wide men. Hrustić is expected to return to the starting XI against Tunisia which will be a welcome return for Arnold’s side given their need for added technical quality in the middle of the park. If fit, Hrustić is likely to start as the right-sided No.8 in Arnold’s 4-3-3 which gives him license to occupy attacking areas more synonymous with a traditional No.10. The former Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder has a wand of a left foot and can threaten the keeper from range when given time and space to shoot.
Jackson Irvine is an energetic ball-winning midfielder who combines bullish intent and physicality in the middle of the park. Plying his trade at 2.Bundesliga side St Pauli, Irvine is adept at arriving late in the box but his main qualities come in the way that he presses the opposition and wins the ball in dangerous areas. A consistent starter, Irvine is important to the Socceroos because he is tall, athletic and a good tackler. He is one of the first names on the team sheet because Graham Arnold does not have many players of Irvine’s profile at his disposal. At times, however, he has a tendency to be caught out of position and thus mistime his tackles when beaten by a direct dribbler. Given the amount of dribbling quality that Tunisia possesses, particularly in wide areas. Irvine racked up 3 fouls against France and I expect him to pick up at least one against Tunisia.
Aaron Mooy is the fulcrum of Australia’s midfield and is undoubtedly one of the first names on the team sheet. While Ange Postecoglou has been using the creative midfielder in a more advanced position of late at Celtic, Mooy typically finds himself as the deepest midfielder for Arnold’s Socceroos where he can sit behind the ball, dictate play and act as the lynchpin of Australia’s ball progression. Almost every attacking sequence originates from Mooy such is his importance to the side with respect to advancing the ball up the pitch. For instance, even in a match where Australia did not share much of the ball, Mooy attempted 66 passes against Les Bleus, completing 59 of them. Assuming that Mooy continues to play as the deep-lying playmaker in Australia’s midfield, there is a fairly high chance that he continues to operate as the central figure of Arnold’s midfield who can lead the team forward by transitioning defence to attack.
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