A VAR-awarded Mile Jedinak penalty helped Australia to a 1-1 draw with Denmark on Thursday night (AEST), with the Socceroos unable to convert their superiority for much of the game into a desperately-needed victory.
The Danes came out firing, Tottenham star Christian Eriksen finding the net in just the seventh minute after some stunning foot-work from Nicolai Jorgensen.
It soon looked as if proceedings could get ugly for Australia, with the Danish Dynamite blowing the opposition defence apart throughout the opening stanza.
But Australia stood firm, Trent Sainsbury marshalling the defensive line and Mat Ryan again an important presence between the posts.
The momentum swung following the penalty, Australia sending forward multiple attacking raids led by Tom Rogic.
Ultimately, the Socceroos could not find a winner and the teams left with one point apiece.
Here’s what we learned from the clash the Samara Arena.
1. Round of 16 hopes hanging by a thread
Australia’s World Cup hopes remain alive. Just.
While the exact permutations will depend on the outcome in Thursday’s other Group C game, between France and Peru, to qualify for the round of 16 Australia will now need to beat Peru and hope for a favourable result when Denmark face France.
In that scenario, goal difference may well determine the Socceroos’ fate.
It won’t be easy, but in Australia football they rarely are.
One thing, though, is certain: the 15,000-odd Socceroos fans in Russia will sing to the last minute in Sochi next week.
2. VAR strikes back
Another World Cup match-day, another controversial use of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology.
This time, though, it worked in Australia’s favour.
Mathew Leckie rose to meet an out-swinging corner, and his subsequent header was blocked by the trailing arm of Danish midfielder Yussuf Poulsen, who had gone up for the aerial contest.
Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz did not immediately point to the spot, but after allowing play to continue he soon had instructions in his ear to take another look.
Lahoz pointed to the spot and the Australians were soon back on level-pegging.
The decision immediately elicited a reaction on social media.
On one hand, Poulsen should know better than to have his arm raised in the box.
On the other, the ball was on a downward trajectory from Leckie’s header and the Dane’s hand position did not deviate.
After the VAR controversy against France, Australians fans certainly weren’t complaining.
3. Enigma Rogic much improved
Celtic star Rogic has long been a mercurial presence in the Australian midfield, alternating being the brilliant and the banal.
He was largely anonymous last Saturday against France, bringing the ball forward effectively on occasion but not showing much of his dazzling creativity.
Against Denmark, Rogic shone.
He was involved in most of Australia’s attacking forays and would have had an assist or two to his name if not for lacklustre touches by teammates.
A poor first touch early in the second half saw an opportunity going begging, but otherwise Rogic was faultless.
He was unable to contribute to the final search for a winner, substituted late for Jackson Irvine, but received a well-deserved applause from the green and gold army.
Another star showing from Rogic will be required on Tuesday if Australia is to have any hope of progressing to the round of 16.
4. Captain confidence as Jedinak again steadies the Socceroos
He might not have started either of Australia’s pre-tournament friendlies, but Socceroos captain Jedinak has shown no sign of being dislodged from the starting XI in Russia.
He imposed himself in the midfield against France in Kazan and did likewise on Thursday.
Jedinak’s calmness under pressure at spot-kicks was called upon once more, and again the skipper did not disappoint – confidently dispatching the ball as Denmark’s Kasper Schmeichel dived the wrong way.
The bearded-leader made himself heard throughout the second-half as the Australians searched for a winner.
At 33, Jedinak is slowly beginning to lose his agility in the midfield. For now, though, he remains a valuable servant for the Socceroos.
5. Kruse control
Bert van Marwijk opted for an unchanged starting XI, which saw Robbie Kruse again start on the right-hand side.
Kruse’s ball-control let him down all afternoon, repeatedly losing possession and stymieing attacking momentum.
Sure enough, the VfL Bochum winger was the first Australian substitute, replaced by wonder-kid Daniel Arzani in the 68th minute.
Kruse was serviceable – if underwhelming – against France, and following his Denmark showing van Marwijk will surely have to tinker with his line-up ahead of Tuesday’s encounter.
Unfortunately, a dearth of wide men with the Socceroos in Russia leaves few options.
Unless he starts Arzani, which van Marwijk has hinted against, Dimitri Petratos might find himself with unexpected game-time.