Australia reach round of 16 with Mathew Leckie's brilliant goal to send Denmark home

AL WAKRAH, Qatar -- In what will go down as an all-time famous result for Australia, the Socceroos upset Denmark 1-0 on a goal from Mathew Leckie to advance to the round of 16 for the first time since 2006. It marks the first time Australia has ever won two games at a single World Cup after winning just once over the last three tournaments combined.

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For Denmark, the loss and elimination is a massive failure after coming into the tournament with high expectations considering its recent success at the Euros and relative lack of quality -- at least on paper --- of the teams it had to finish above: Australia and Tunisia.

Rapid reaction

1. Australia's tactics pay off

From the opening kickoff, it was clear the Socceroos were going to sit back and play on the counter. It made sense, especially when conventional logic said they would likely only need a draw to advance from the group. It turned out, though, that a win was necessary as Tunisia pulled off a shocker, beating France to land on four points and would have gone through on goal differential had Australia drawn with Denmark.

Collectively, Australia defended extremely well. Though Denmark amassed 13 shots, they added up to just 0.63 xG and never really truly threatened in front of goalkeeper Mathew Ryan.

But that wouldn't have been enough had it not been for one of the tournament's great individual moments of brilliance from Melbourne City's Leckie. His winning goal -- which may go down as the biggest in Australian history -- came on a run that started in Australia's defensive half. He received the ball just as he entered the attacking third, swerved by Atalanta defender Joakim Maehle and slotted a on the ground into the far corner. It wasn't the first time Australia had threatened on the counter, and from that point forward, it effectively closed up shop.

2. Disaster tournament for Denmark

When Denmark landed in a group with Australia and Denmark, few fan bases were happier. Surely, the Danes would have no problem getting through, alongside defending champion France, and on to the knockout rounds after doing so in Russia in 2018. They also became a trendy pick to make a deeper run, despite coming into the tournament as the No. 10 betting favorite.

Expectations frame evaluation. So, by any measure, crashing out in the group stage is an abject disaster for coach Kasper Hjulmand, who coached the team to the semifinals of the delayed 2020 Euros last summer. It's the first time in six all-time World Cup appearances that Denmark didn't win at least one match, with its one total goal and one total point all-time worst marks.

As good a story as Christian Eriksen's return was, this will be remembered for all the reasons Denmark would just assume forget.

3. Score one for the smaller leagues

Australia has only two players on its roster that play on top-five European leagues. Only Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which rely on players only from their domestic leagues, have fewer. The Aussies have eight players from their domestic league. Denmark, meanwhile, has 20 players from the top-five leagues, which makes it peers with Brazil (22), Argentina (22) and Portugal (19).

That breakdown illustrates a significant talent discrepancy while hammering home an important point: None of that guarantees anything. And that's the beauty of the World Cup.

Player ratings (1 = worst, 10 = best)

Australia: Mathew Ryan 8, Milos Degenek 8, Kye Rowles 8, Mathew Leckie 8, Aaron Mooy 7, Riley McGree 7, Mitchell Duke 6, Aziz Behich 7, Harry Souttar 7, Jackson Irvine 7, Craig Goodwin 6.

Subs: Keanu Baccus 6, Bailey Wright 6

Denmark: Kasper Schmeichel 6, Joachim Andersen 7, Joakim Maehle 5, Andreas Christensen 7, Mathias Jensen 7, Martin Braithwaite 6, Christian Eriksen 6, Andreas Skov Olsen 7, Rasmus Kristensen 6, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg 7, Jesper Lindstrom 6

Subs: Alex Bah 6, Kasper Dolberg 6, Mikkel Damsgaard 6, Robert Skov 6, Andreas Cornelius 6

Best and worst performers

BEST: Mat Ryan, Australia

The goalkeeper faced 13 shots and needed to make just three saves, but he was much more active than that would indicate. He finished the game with more completed passes (24) than anyone on his team.

WORST: Joakim Maehle, Denmark

It was a single moment but it's the only one that will be remembered, and he failed to do enough to slow down Leckie on his goal.

Highlights and notable moments

Despite Denmark commanding most of the game, Australia broke the deadlock with a fantastic counter-attacking play.

Australia fans are celebrating at home, despite it being 3 a.m.

After the match: What the players and managers said

Australia and Columbus Crew defender Degenek: "The sky's the limit in football. Leicester City won the Premier League four, five years ago.

"Anything's possible. Croatia went to the final of the last World Cup. Anything's possible. It's football.

"In the end, these beautiful football stories are the ones that are written with these situations, in these moments, and it's these things that define a certain generation, or define you as a person -- what happens now."

Lionel Messi on facing Australia in the round of 16: "The match against Australia is going to be very difficult.

"Anyone can beat anyone, it's all even. We have to prepare for the game as we always do."

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)

- Mathew Leckie scores his 14th goal for Australia -- his first goal since June 2021 in World Cup qualifying.

- Australia's goalkeeper Mat Ryan completed the most passes for the team in the entire game vs Denmark (24).

Up next

Australia: As the second-place finisher from Group D, Australia will play the first-place finisher from Group C, Argentina, on Dec. 3.

Denmark: With the loss, the Danes are out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.