Two minutes of chaos that projected the Socceroos into the final of the World Cup-16

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<p><figcaption class=Photograph: John Sibley/Reuters

It happened in the 58th minute and René Meulensteen was the first to hear it. The Socceroos assistant coach was on the bench at Al Janoub Stadium when word spread that Tunisia had scored.

At the Education City Stadium, Wahbi Khazri had overcome a second-league France team to take a 1-0 lead. It meant that Australia, who were still 0-0 with Denmark, now needed to win to move into Group D runners-up.

Related: ‘Now these kids are heroes’: Socceroos linked to round of 16 fixture with Argentina

France were expected to face Tunisia easily, a scenario which would have required only Graham Arnold’s side to draw with the Danes.

But Didier Deschamps, knowing his title holders had already qualified, had rested nearly all of his first-choice starting XI. That decision pretty complicated things in the simultaneous citywide final bracket match.

Arnold was standing in Australia’s technical area when Meulensteen was informed of Khazri’s goal. He may have had to break the news to Arnold at some point, except he didn’t have time.

“It was just a quiet word from Tony Vidmar in my ear: no more information, no reason to jump on it and panic,” Meulensteen said later. “The great thing is that it happened, and then a minute later we scored.”

Two minutes later, to be exact, when Mitchell Duke launches a devastating counterattack, finding Riley McGree who, in turn, anticipates Leckie’s run from midfield.

The latter then went off on his own, setting up Joakim Mæhle before deflecting left to send his shot in front of Kasper Schmeichel’s goal and inside the far post.

“That’s when I said to Arnie ‘listen, Tunisia are winning 1-0’,” said Muelensteen. “And I grabbed Miloš Degenek to say ‘get in touch and tell the players to make sure they know where we are [and] we have to win, we have to keep a clean sheet’”.

Degenek did his duty and got the message across, only nobody believed him.

“I said if we don’t win the Tunisians will go through to the round of 16 on goal difference,” said Degenek. “The guys thought I was cheering them up so we wouldn’t lose, but it was actually me who meant it.”

The 28-year-old has both a dry wit and a self-described “lion mentality” that drives him to win at all costs, and Jackson Irvine admitted he thought his teammate was broadcasting fake news to keep them motivated.

“In the back of my mind I was actually like, ‘well done, Miloš, that’s a good idea,'” said Irvine. “Tell the guys we need a win, absolutely.” And then you find out later [he was telling the truth].”

In his post-match press conference, Arnold said he didn’t know Tunisia had beaten France 1-0 until the final whistle.

“I would have been absolutely devastated if we had gotten a draw and it hadn’t gone the way it did,” he said.

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