Harry Souttar has to duck slightly to enter the media zone where a gaggle of journalists are eagerly waiting, recorders already whirring.
At 198cm – one of the tallest players at this World Cup – the Socceroos centre-back is a dizzying presence in this small room. His standard-issue Australia tracksuit pants don’t reach his ankles.
It’s one of the few opportunities to get a physical sense of what Tunisia’s players experienced on Wednesday in Al-Wakrah — this impervious break-wall of a man against which the white tide of their attack crashed over and over before ebbing away in defeat.
While Mitch Duke’s header won the game, Souttar (and his defensive partner Kye Rowles) provided the spine: the central column that kept the Socceroos upright as they withstood an exhausting second half of largely defensive football.
His stats reveal a colossal game: 50 touches, six clearances, five long-ball completions, three blocks, and a 100 per cent success rate in every ground duel he contested and every tackle he flew in for – including that tackle, the 85th-minute moment of magic that former Socceroo Harry Kewell described as “perfect” and which teammate Jackson Irvine said the players “celebrated almost as much as the goal.”
Alongside Rowles, Aziz Behich and Fran Karacic, he anchored a team that kept its first clean sheet in a World Cup since 1974, well before they were all born.
And yet, despite one of the most commanding and imposing defensive performances ever seen in a Socceroos jersey, this player that Jamie Maclaren described as a “man mountain” is also noticeably, endearingly quiet.
Despite occupying so much space in the room, journalists still need to lean forward with arms outstretched to pick up his soft Scottish twang on their recorders.
He laughs sheepishly when asked whether his phone has been blowing up with football clubs wanting his signature, despite this being just his third game since returning from an ACL injury that kept him out for a year.
“Naw,” he says, humbly.
“[My agent] was just delighted for me, obviously. I share the same agent with [Martin] Boyle, and obviously it was a bit disappointing that he missed the tournament, but he was really pleased for me.
“My focus has got to be here and now. If you ask every player, they want to play at the highest level they can, but my focus is purely on Denmark. I’ll let other people deal with that [future offers], I don’t need to deal with that. I just need to concentrate on my performances on the pitch.”
Asked about that tackle – the type shown in slow-motion to teach others how to do it – he immediately deflects attention to his teammates, praising the four or five who sprinted back into the box just in case his sliding challenge didn’t come off.
They are mature answers from a player who, at only 24 years old, has already established himself as an authoritative presence in the Socceroos squad.
“He’s one of the first ones back in the dressing room to say, ‘we go again’,” Irvine says.
“That’s the kind of person and player he is. He wants to always push us and push everybody further. He’s a leader at his age already.”
It’s perhaps no surprise given how quickly life has come at the Stoke City defender. Growing up in a small town near Aberdeenshire in Scotland’s north-east, Souttar left school at an early age to chase his footballing dreams, joining the Dundee United academy before making his first-team debut at 18.
The son of an Australian mother and a Scottish father, he was part of Scotland’s youth national teams alongside his older brother John, who now plays for Rangers.
However, the two took a different path when it came to senior international football: while John has gone on to represent Scotland, Harry instead chose Australia after receiving a phone call from Graham Arnold in 2019. He scored twice on debut for the Socceroos in a World Cup qualifier against Nepal, and has used his enormous frame to add four more to that tally since.
Although he hadn’t visited Australia until he pulled on the green-and-gold to represent them, there’s no doubting his commitment to the team: it’s literally inked into his skin in the form of a coat of arms tattoo that sits above his cap number, 606.
Souttar has done a lot of growing up off the pitch in recent years, too. He spent much of the past 12 months on the sideline recovering from a knee injury he sustained in a qualifier against Saudi Arabia last year, which almost extinguished his World Cup flame.
It was a slow and steady return to fitness, as it always is, and he leaned heavily on his family during the darker times – especially John, who’s suffered three major injuries in as many years.
“You have your highs and you have your lows. But for me, a big part of the rehab was speaking to my brother … to see what he went through, my injury kind of didn’t really seem all that bad,” Souttar told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“He was a great support. And likewise was everyone in the family, teammates, and people back at the club as well.”
Only a few months ago, the family banded around each other as they mourned the loss of Souttar’s late brother Aaron, an avid golfer, who passed away at age 42 after battling motor neurone disease.
Alongside the coat of arms, Harry also has a tattoo of Aaron – a portrait of him in full golf-swing outside the famous St Andrews clubhouse – on his forearm, a daily visible reminder of where he’s come from and who he’s doing all this for.
It’s a lot to have gone through at such a young age, but Souttar credits his “old man” for instilling in him the steadfast character that has formed a ballast for the Socceroos on and off the field in this rollercoaster World Cup campaign.
“I left school when I was 15 and was straight into full-time football, just around men, so I had to grow up pretty quickly,” he says.
“I think it was just kind of an upbringing and the people around me shaping me into the person I am.”
Rowles, Souttar’s centre-back partner, is especially grateful for his teammate’s level-headedness after watching him barrel across the field to tackle the escaping Taha Yassine Khenissi after Rowles had stumbled backwards into the grass.
“Wasn’t my greatest moment, that’s for sure,” Rowles laughs.
“Rewatching it, [Harry] swallowed him up in about three strides, so I said thank you after the game to him about five times. I think I owe him a couple after that, for sure.
“Full credit to H, what he’s done. He’s been out for 12 months or so, and to play like he did and back up in four days is just monumental.
“At such a young age, he’s got an awful lot of experience at international level already.
“He just says to keep calm and play your game. That instils a lot of confidence in myself to hear those kinds of words from a player such as him; he’s just basically always talking to me.
“And vice-versa for myself: just always to be switched on and in the moment and knowing where your man is, going into tackles, winning balls, not being scared to step in because you know he’s gonna be there behind me and I’m gonna be there for him as well.”
While Denmark poses a different kind of challenge to Tunisia, Australia can rest assured that in the gentle giant fondly nicknamed “Big Harry Souttar” by his blossoming online fanbase, they have a player capable of standing up – literally and metaphorically – to the task. He will be there for all of us. Even if he might not want to talk about it.