Australia’s World Cup clash against Tunisia at Al Janoub Stadium on Saturday pitches a Socceroos side that have struggled to score against a team that have this year made a virtue of not conceding.
The Australians would have long targeted the clash with the North Africans as their best chance of a victory in Group D to break a finals winless streak that goes back to South Africa in 2010.
The fixture became all the more important for Australia after they went down 4-1 to defending champions France in their tournament opener at the same stadium on Tuesday.
Tunisia’s 0-0 draw with Denmark earlier the same day, however, offered the Socceroos the glimpse of a path to the knockout stages for the second time in six World Cup campaigns.
“It was good that the other result was a draw and now it’s about winning on Saturday, so we have got to get ready for it,” said Australia coach Graham Arnold
“We’ve got the option of changing players and making sure we get some fresh ones out there.”
Breaching the Tunisian defence has proved beyond all but Brazil in the North African’s last 10 games, even if the five-times world champions did it five times in a September friendly in Paris.
Coach Jalel Kadri will be happy to accept accusations of negativity if he can find a way to get his country into the round of 16 for the first time in what is also their sixth appearance at the finals.
Captain Youssef Msakni runs the Tunisian midfield and will be looking to trigger counter-attacks to test an Australian defence that was found wanting by accurate French crosses in their opening match.
The Tunisians will also again have the benefit of what is effectively home support on Saturday with an estimated 35,000 of their compatriots and 65,000 other Francophile North Africans living in Qatar.
Craig Goodwin’s early goal against the French proved that Australia can find the net if their forwards get decent service so the focus will be on their playmaker Aaron Mooy.
Ajdin Hrustic, the Australian midfielder most likely to find the pass to unpick an obdurate defence, remains a doubt as he continues to recover from an ankle injury sustained before the tournament.