The Aftermath

A few days down the track and I’m still in a sober mood. The players have gone home, the coach has moved on, AFL and league has returned to the back pages… Has the last month been a dream?

Then I see a replay of that penalty, and I’m gripped by sudden compulsion to scream. I was watching an interview with Tim Cahill this morning when my flatmate – who by the way dislikes football – overheard him commenting on the loss. Her immediate reaction was to ask why he doesn’t ‘get over it’? It may be a blunt way to express the sentiment, but it was also a perfectly valid – if the game was simply a rugby league match where there would always be other opportunities, or a cricket match where you’re guaranteed to meet the opposition in the future. But there can be no recovery from an event that may have been a once-in-a-lifetime affair.

After all the trials of watching the Socceroos trying to qualify in 1997 and 2001, this World Cup has been really, really special because I myself had been disappointed by those failures. Their presence in 2006 further enhanced what would have ordinarily been a great event anyway. It was thrilling because I was proud that it was my team out there in the field, my players, some who grew up close by, playing against those superstars. If I, a casual supporter, could feel like this, then what must it have been like for the people more intimately involved – current and past players, coaches, support staff, and their associated families – for which the event seemed like a cumulation of a dream?

Many, if not all, have sacrificed much for the game. I have heard that it’s not uncommon for parents of prospective players to mortgage their house to send their son overseas in order to ‘make it’. Harry Kewell started at Leeds at the age of 14, a ridiculously young age to leave home. I don’t think Lucas Neill was much older when he too moved to England. I can’t imagine how much they’ve had to struggle in those early years away from their families, and then in the years of tireless work that followed. It has undoubted made them tough, and determined.

Now they have made it, and in making it they were also hungry to prove they belonged. The team put in everything into this World Cup, and it was evident to all who saw them play how much they wanted to be there since they, and the country, had waited so long. So when the end came, the Socceroos, as well as us, found defeat very difficult to take. The way we were defeated was certainly painful, but the loss of opportunity must have been worse, especially when there can be no guarantees that we may return. That’s a rather pessimistic view to take, I know, but it’s my realistic side taking over. What I mean is that I’m confident that they will be there in 2010, but after previous stuff-ups you can never take anything for granted.

And that’s the difference between football and other sports where Australia is dominant. I can’t count the number of times in recent years where I’ve bemoaned that cricket (a game that I do like watching) had become sooo boring because Australia was almost always winning. In fact, the last Ashes series was only exciting because there was true competition and that element of uncertainty made the game compelling. Well, nothing was more compelling than a Socceroos game of late. In fact, you could easily have a heartattack watching them. Being unable to take anything for granted makes any kind of ‘success’, whether it’s an actual win or just being able to match a past World Cup winner, all the more sweeter.

Makes football extremely attractive, doesn’t it? Well, it certainly has a lot to offer, and it’s understandable why Aussies jumped on the bandwagon. If they have any sense they will stay on it, and their support may ensure that another opportunity will come along.

At the end of the day…

What a long, sad day it’s been. I really, really need to get all my emotions out because as my workmates and those on the message board could testify, I was very upset by the result of this morning’s game against Italy. The result may be the same as a week ago against Brazil – a defeat – but the emotions it evoked was the antithesis of last week’s match.

My overwhelming response for the day was that we were robbed – robbed by a penalty that should never have been, robbed by a team who were very far from models of fair play.

Yes, Italy has skill and experience. Yes, both teams were hungry for a win, but in a fair world the Italians would have gone for a win by fair means – a goal, or in the worse case, the penalty shootout. But obviously it was not to be and the fair team lost.

And at the centre of all this is, unbelievably, Lucas Neill. He fell, Grosso rolled over the top of him and it was all over. I really, really feel for him. His expression of disbelief and anguish said it all.


That it happened to him of all people was too cruel. He had, in my humble opinion and the opinion of many others more knowledgeable than me, been Australia’s player of the tournament, who had before the penalty been the man pacifying the best attackers in football.

It may sound stupid, but I feel the overwhelming need to console him, but what can I do? What can I do to console a team who had worked their hearts out, who had been truly inspiring? The only thing to do is to support them in my own little way. Support the Socceroos when they compete in the Asian Cup (which I’m sure they’ll do brilliantly in), support the individuals as they play for their clubs.

I’ve learned today just how cruel sport can be, but despite the obvious injustices in the game the Socceroos truly embodied how football is meant to be played – with enthusiasm and hunger, with skill that entertains, with fairness and great team spirit. Were we naïve to go in with this attitude? Perhaps, but it’s teams like Australia that keep the game vital and exciting, and unfortunately it’s teams like Italy that kill it.

We may have to work harder than other nations to succeed, and there’s certainly plenty of work to be done on all levels, but what Guus Hiddink had shown us in 11 short months was that we’re not useless, in fact, we’re not behind at all. Success is possible, and what greater achievement could there be in world sport than to show the world that success and fair play can go hand-in-hand in football?

So you might have guessed that I had gone through all 5 stages of grief in the last 24 hours, and in the last 2 weeks experienced all the highs and lows that come from passionately following a team, my national football team. In the end there was a lot to be proud of – the team’s tenacity, their truly attractive brand of play, their positively infectious attitude, and their graciousness in defeat.

All of the above qualities were displayed by all of the team, but particularly in Lucas Neill. Although you very well know that it was not his talent that first attracted me, it’s his talent and sense of self that won out in the end. He is no doubt a gifted and intelligent player, but he is also a leader and the perfect role model for a sport professional – competitive, fair and humble.

I hope that he goes back to Blackburn spurned and not disheartened. I hope that he will soon go to a big team like Barcelona, that he will one day captain the Socceroos, so he can show the world just what he and Australian football is really made of. Recognition has already started and finally the world as well as Australia knows that football is strong and here to stay.

So thank you Lucas, thank you Socceroos, and thank you Guus for showing Australia the way.

Guus shows us the way

Act 3: Croatia and beyond

It’s days like these that makes me very proud. When sport transcends and really empowers (as corny as it sounds) a nation.

The game itself wasn’t pretty but like the last two, it was a cliffhanger that made me in turn – lunge for the mute button/scream my lungs out in frustration/scream out in ecstacy – all this before the sun and the fog had even lifted!

Harry’s goal and before that, Craig Moore’s strength in taking the penalty, were brilliant moments.

But more moving was the spirit of resilience and determination in which they played the game. Yes, the commentators, journalists as well as other fans have waxed lyrical about it today, but for me this was up there with the Olympics in terms of the pride I felt for the team and what they had achieved. And I wasn’t alone.

The public were overjoyed and proud.

And it was obvious that the players were too.

Yes, I did post that pic for a (pretty obvious) reason. But our man was again unbelievably good today as well as being unbelievably hot. You’ve earned your nickname, Lucas!

So with the help of a few friends I’ve set up a mini fan site for Mr. Hottie, who will no longer languish in the backline!

Bring on Italy!!

Act 2: Brazil vs Australia

Faaaaar out! Now that was a crackin’ good match! Well done boys!!

After my Shakespearean analogy for Japan, Datadude likened the Brazil match to Waiting For Godot… except that this Godot came along. Sigh…

Still, given that I had visions of an Argentina-Serbia style whitewash before the game, 2-0 against those boys ain’t bad at all. Technically-speaking, some of the performances were absolutely inspired. Who would have thought we could have produced a goal-less first half?

Have to mention one key performance though. How about our Mr. Hottie? Still card-free and made some brilliant saves and tackles. And doesn’t he look lovely in dark-blue? 🙂

My favourite moment has to be…

Lucas Neill does his thing against Ronaldo

… When Lucas made an excellent challenge on an ailing Ronaldo, leaving him sprawled on the ground dazed and confused (as if he wasn’t before). Mind you, the Round One did move a little more than in the previous match and created a goal. But when you’ve got a bench loaded with talent like Brazil’s the coach would be bonkers to pick him again.

Swapping shirts with the Brazillians

Unfortunately Mr. Hottie didn’t take Ronaldinho’s example… baaaah!!!!!


Oh… my… God! (let’s add a few more ‘!’ in there) !!!!!!!

The Socceroos not only won against Japan but they won it empathically! Ok, they did take their time (6 minutes to the final hooter is cutting it a bit fine) but they did finish off in style.

The lead-up to victory shaped up like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Scene 1: The tragedy.

Japan scores through controversial means

OMG, we was robbed! Mark Schwarzer was impeded but the goal still stood. Aus 0 – Japan 1. What followed was a long, long hour of grinding but unproductive play.

Scene 2: The triumph.

The camp celebrates Tim Cahills goal

Timmy Cahill comes to the rescue! He rolled out a tickler and everyone misses. Aus 1 – Japan 1.

Then 2 minutes later, the Weetbix Kid kicks an absolute scorcher into the top left corner and suddenly we’re in the lead! Aus 2 – Japan 1.

Scene 3: The ecstasy!

John Aloisi puts the icing on the cake

Johnny Aloisi finishes off with a fine drive. Aus 3 – Japan 1. It’s all over… until next week.

Psst, Mr. Hottie came out unscathed too. Tops!


Yes, yes, I neglected my blog for months and then what do I write about? Football. But I can’t help it ‘cos I’m genuinely excited that the World Cup (Copa Mundial, Coupe de Monde, Copa do Mundo, Warudo Kuppu etc.) is finally here. Yipeeee!

Here come the TV all-nighters and bleary-eyed mornings. Here comes the edge-of-your-seat tension, the irrational screaming, the waking up your flatmates at 3 am – and that’s just when the Socceroos play! I won’t just be watching those games, ‘cos although like most people I also believe that Brazil will come up trumps, there’s still a lot more to enjoy. Actual skill is secondary when you have…

The style…

Djibril Cisse

… and glamour.

Davo Beckham

(Well, Becks did define the word ‘metrosexual’)

The Oscar-winning performances.

Rivaldos faker

The (hmmm) men… more on this later.

One thing about the Socceroos is that unlike Australia’s other national teams (noticeably our rugby and cricket teams) we aren’t totally devoid of hot guys. Some friends brought this man to attention, who we decided to call “Mr World Cup 2006 Six-Pack Hottie”.

Lucas Neill

His real name is Lucas Neill, but that’s beside the point.

Now, I would love to see my national team actually win a game (progressing to the next round may be beyond us), and I do like watching them play, but this just makes the lack of sleep a little more worth it, you know?