Tunisia v Australia by Thomas Esamie

Tunisia 0 - Australia 3

You would expect, and not unreasonably so, that with a World Cup qualification playoff in the offing Australia would try to get a good number of friendly matches arranged. As it turns out they got around to arranging just the one, that being against Tunisia ranked 20 in the (in)famous FIFA rankings.

It suggests that Australia expect to face West Asian opposition and considering the likelihood of Iran and Saudi Arabia topping Group A and South Korea, the UAE and Japan fighting for honours in Group B it is not an unlikely scenario. However I digress.

Prior to kickoff the listed starting sweeper, Steve Horvat, was injured and was replaced at the last minute by veteran Milan Ivanovic. Playing in front of a surprisingly vociferous crowd of ~20,000 in the 60,000 capacity stadium Australia managed to strike an early blow. Tussling for the ball Beya got rather more leg than he wanted on a block which rolled all the way down the sideline and over for a corner. The corner was taken by Skoko and the Tunisian GK was on his line and Aurelio Vidmar just in front. As the ball came in Vidmar drifted out and, inexplicably, the goalkeeper followed him as if he were Aurelio's marker. There was a defender on the near post but nobody at the far end and as the ball was nodded in by Vidmar that is exactly where it went. Vidmar had jumped for the ball and put it over the keeper who was still just behind him but now on the line of the 6yard box.

Tunisia played the rest of the game trying to catch up and eventhough there was plenty of time the urgency they exhibited had a nasty habit of manifesting itself in rushed shots, mistimed passes and clumsy tackles. However they did produce the next major scoring chance when a driven cross from Nouira found Kalac wanting for handling skill and Gabsi was on hand to clean up the scraps. However Kalac managed to drop the ball directly in front of himself and in the middle of the penalty box which meant Gabsi needed the ball to go over Kalac to score. However Gabsi must have felt there was the option of going through Kalac and the ball deflected handsomely over the bar as a result.

The resulting corner, Tunisia's second, was rapidly followed by their third and none of them were of any concern for the Australian defence. There was basically a lot of to-ing and fro-ing from the two sides and perhaps this lulled Trabelsi (I apologise for any misspellings of the Tunisian names but I can only go on the commentators pronounciation) into more relaxation than he had any right to enjoy. Conversely perhaps his brain just exploded. Anyway as the ball was played back to him near the line he decided to switch play to the other side. Nothing much wrong with that except that his pass was misdirected and there was only one defender behind him. As a result Aurelio Vidmar ran onto the cross, chested it down and fed the ball to Mark Viduka who was surging through the pack of backpedalling defenders. It was a well timed pass which sprung the offside trap and with the charging keeper to beat Viduka neatly chipped the ball with the outside of his right boot over the keeper who was diving at the feet of Viduka. It was Mark's first goal for the national team in what I believe to be his third game.

Towards the end of the first half Australia engineered some more decent, if not entirely gettable, chances at goal. Viduka heading a ball straight at the keeper and a brilliant Skoko run (Skoko had been carried off briefly for treatment after he suffered an injury in a heavy tackle) gave Aloisi a chance which the keeper also was able to deal with. Muscat too was unmarked at the far post as a cross came in but his shot was completely miskicked and ended up further away from goal than he was. Tunisia too had the odd shot at goal, one a spectacular overhead kick from Badra which was not on target but well hit nonetheless. Overall though the Australian defence was equal to the questions put to them by Tunisia's attack.

At the resumption of play for the second half Tunisia had made several halftime changes, and one Australian change. Young Leeds defender Harry Kewell replaced the striker John Aloisi. Aloisi had been largely anonymous so his substitution was on the cards but that Kewell should play the role of striker, while the possibility had been mooted, was something of a surprise.

Kewell made his presence felt early when a huge throw by Kalac set him loose with a 2 on 2 counterattack before he was pulled down from behind just outside the box. For coaches of other countries take note. You're very safe to foul Australians near your goal because our free kicks are funnier than the Three Stooges could ever hope to be. They're rarely on target and we only ever score from them by accident. This one went about 2 metres over the bar and kept rising until gravity took pity on the Australians.

Tunisia then inched their way down the ground and Thabet, Gabsi and Souiyeh combined in a beatiful move to get Thabet behind the defense and the squared ball back ended up at the feet of halftime sub Laroussi who had the goal at his mercy and dragged the ball wide. He had the good humour to smile about it but there was more than a little ruefulness involved.

Things got worse when a weaving run by Souayah left a huge hole in the middle of the Aussie defence which led to a shot on goal requiring all of Kalac's height to beat away to his left. Then there was a followup shot from Slimane which would have been a certain goal but for the fact it was sliced away from goal and went out for a goal kick.

Of course not all kicks by Australia were heading for the top corner. Harry Kewell's shot on the turn wouldn't have been going into the top corner if the goal size were increased fivefold. At the other end Kalac was fortunate when a goal kick went not quite where one hopes he was aiming because were it not for a poor first touch from a Tunisian he would have scored instead of having Kalac run out of his area and put the ball over the sideline. Kalac also remembered to kick the ball away once it had crossed the sideline just so that he had enough time to get back into goal.

Kalac slightly less embarrassing when a ball from Souiyeh to an unmarked attacker was eventually taken care of by Kalac who came out to intercept the ball and ended up having to make a save rather than just picking up the ball.

By this stage Tunisia had enough chances to at least be level with Australia again and when Laroussi got to a long ball first and only had Kalac in front of him he really should have done better than to push the ball wide of the far post. It was a clear goal scoring chance and one suspects if he knew how much time he had he might have made sure of the goal by rounding the keeper first.

As often happens in situations like this Australia then scored another goal in what could be called against the run of play. Milan Ivanovic, getting ever closer to 40, decided to make a run through midfield from his sweeping position beat a few men and threaded a ball forward to Harry Kewell who unleashed a stinging shot low to the far post which the keeper could only parry and Matthew Bingley ran on to put the ball into the net ahead of some defenders who are either slow or had given up before the fight was over.

Tunisia had the best chance to score from the spot when, late in the game, a run from Laroussi saw him get into the area and shadowed by Alex Tobin. When the ball was pulled back it brushed against Tobin's hand and the referee awarded the Tunisians a penalty. All this came from Slater being dispossessed and came as something of a surprise...

...not as much of a surprise as Suoiyah ambling up the ball, sending Kalac the wrong way and then neatly putting the ball wide of the post. By this stage the game was lost for Tunisia of course but there can't be much of an excuse for putting the ball wide of goal on a penalty.

The formalities were completed and Australia score a record 14th win in a row in preparation for the real prize. A place in the World Cup to be decided on the 29th of November, though one hopes the first leg a week prior will go a long way to deciding the issue in Australia's favour.

Written by Thomas Esamie