Kye Rowles, Harry Souttar and Aaron Mooy all shine as Australia make history and book a place in last 16

As Australia edged towards a clutch of World Cup firsts, including their first spot in the last 16 since 2006, two group wins for the first time, and their first clean sheet in 11 attempts against a European side on the greatest stage, there was almost grudging respect from pundits who, even at half-time, were predicting this would be the Socceroos curtain call.

Sticking two fingers up to the naysayers, the Aussies weathered any storm Denmark could whip up and proved that in a sport dripping with statistics, characteristics like spirit, teamwork and dogged defiance, which are tougher to quantify, can still be the vital difference.

That’s what separates those games played on paper from the reality of those played on turf. And why, teams ranked 38th in the world can beat those included in the top 10 and it explains why players such as Harry Souttar and Kye Rowles can return from long-term injury just in time for the World Cup and go out there and deliver for manager Graham Arnold and their team-mates.

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It was Mathew Leckie who scored the 60th minute winner for the Aussies as they deflated Denmark and cemented second place in Group D, but without the centre-back pairing with a tartan hue - one born in Scotland and the other an adopted native - they wouldn’t have had the platform for glory.

Hearts' Cammy Devlin was an unused substitute but Tynecastle team-mate Kye Rowles produced another top performance as Australia progressed from their World Cup group. Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group

A tidy, solid partnership, in a laudable team performance, Stoke City’s Souttar and Hearts’ Rowles once again proved themselves invaluable. No wonder Arnold gave them until the last few weeks to prove themselves fit.

Losing four goals against France might have dented the confidence but against Tunisia and, again, against Denmark, their fortitude was evident and in both matches the opposition didn’t have the will to keep banging their heads against a brick wall or the ingenuity and craft to find a way round it or over it.

So, when Australia took the lead, it looked unlikely they would concede two, taking Denmark out of the equation. A swift response to news that Tunisia had gone ahead in the game against France and ahead of them in the group standings, it underlined their mentality and ensured they would be the ones tucked in behind the defending champions when invitations to the knock-out stage were handed out.

After an open first half, as the Danes pressed, leaving the Aussie’s thankful for the covering play of Celtic’s Aaron Mooy, there were tweaks to the line-up and the tactics as they tightened up after the break. With Rowles and Souttar marshaling things, and stepping in to quickly cover runs or plug any gaps, they were impenetrable.

“They have done really, really well,” said co-commentator Dion Dublin, alert to the impact of their performances. “They have stood big when they have needed to and only gone to ground when they needed to go to ground.”

There were the last ditch blocks, challenges, smart decision-making, covering runs and the willingness to take major body blows as evidenced by Rowles early in the second half.

Getting in the way of Andreas Skov Olsen’s fierce dig winded the Gorgie defender and temporarily brought him to his knees. But, figuratively he only grew in stature as their rivals came to realise that the Aussies weren’t going to buckle.

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