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Australia may have a new Golden Generation at the World Cup

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AL WAKRAH, Qatar (AP) — Australian rules football may have a new golden generation.

Mathew Leckie scored as the Socceroos beat Denmark 1-0 on Wednesday to advance to the World Cup round of 16 only for the second time.

“I’m so proud that I was able to put smiles on people’s faces,” said coach Graham Arnold, noting that this is the first Australian team to win back-to-back games at a World Cup. “Maybe we are talking about a new golden generation.”

The last Socceroos team to win that honor took Australia to the knockout stage in 2006. This team did it again, and Arnold believes the achievement is worthy of a national holiday.

“Give people a day off,” he said. “I think there will be some hangovers and some joy.”

The leader of the new generation could be Leckie, who received a pass near the center circle from Riley McGree on 60 minutes and dodged around a defender before firing a left-footed shot past Danish keeper Kasper Schmeichel.

“I went left and swung my left foot,” said Leckie, who was later harassed by his teammates on the field and off the bench. “I think I was slapped on the head about 100 times.”

Now Leckie wants more.

“We want to dream big,” he said. “I think the key was that when we came to this tournament we always said that we wanted to get out of the group. And now we’ve done that. Now the most important thing is to prepare because we have worked very hard tonight. I think most of the guys are exhausted. That’s exactly what we needed to do to get a result today.”

Australia finished with six points in Group D. Defending champions France won the group on goal difference despite losing to Tunisia 1-0 in the other party of the group.

The World Cup turned out to be a huge disappointment for Denmark after reaching the semi-finals at the 2020 European Championships last year. They recorded a 0-0 draw in their opening game with Tunisia and then bounced back in a 2-1 loss to France.

Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand couldn’t say why one of the world’s top-ranked teams played so poorly.

“No explanation,” he said. “Questions will be asked. But I think it’s important to take some distance to be able to think rationally. I can’t do that now. Emotions are too big. The frustrations are too great.”

Denmark dominated possession for much of the game, but were unable to generate enough chances against Australia’s tenacious defense.

Mathias Jensen had one of his team’s best chances of the game in the 10th minute, but Australian goalkeeper Matthew Ryan made the save from point-blank range.

Australia started the second half well when Jackson Irvine sent a fine chance over the crossbar. But the Socceroos quickly went back to defend before breaking through with Leckie’s goal.

At the end of the match, all 11 players from Denmark were pressing for a draw.

At two late corners, Schmeichel raced upfield to get into the mix in front of goal. Ryan grabbed a corner and Schmeichel ran back. He came all the way back into a second corner with about a minute remaining, but that attempt also came to nothing.

Hjulmand said that the male stopped with him.

“We are not at our level. There is no doubt about that,” Hjulmand said. “What is certain is that it is my responsibility.”

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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