With the FIFA World Cup now just days away it feels like our Socceroos have both come so far and absolutely nowhere – all at the same time.
With a squad that boasts nine players currently plying their trade in our own flourishing league and an appearance at our third consecutive World Cup, the Football Federation of Australia has every right to feel proud of the direction the game is moving in this multi-coded sporting landscape of ours.
So why do we feel like we’re on a hiding to nothing? A lack of marketability? An absence of recognisable names? Nine players from the A-League? This is what to expect, when you’re expecting… to get pumped.
Kewell, Viduka, Neil, Cahill, Schwartzer, Emerton. Ah yes, 2006 was truly the golden generation of our footballing history. The nation was swept up in proverbial World Cup Fever. We went behind to the Japanese through that somewhat controversial goal and then Timmy Cahill scored a brace in the space of 3 minutes, with John “Mafia” Aloisi slotting one home on the counter to make it 3-1, marking a famous night in Australian sports viewing.
Ironically, Aloisi’s match winning penalty against Uruguay in a penalty shoot out to simply qualify us for the 2006 Cup remains the most iconic goal in Australian soccer history. We then lost, admirably, 0-2 to Brazil and then Harry Kewell did his own version of the ‘Hand of God’ goal to level the scores 2-2 against Croatia which was enough to book a date with Italy in the round of 16.
Sure, the subsequent injustice of that penalty decision against Lucas Neill still leaves a sour taste in the mouth but, really, we were extraordinarily lucky to make it that far at all. And that was with our golden generation. A favourable draw; results going our way; favourable refereeing.
So what are we expecting from this year’s lot?
Well this time around we’ve got Chile, Netherlands and arguably one of the greatest international teams ever, Spain. Straight away that is an incredibly hard draw. Bookmakers have Spain and Chile going through, leaving a team that boasts the prodigious talents of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder – not to mention the new Manchester United boss, Louis van Gaal – on the beach in Rio by the time the round of 16 kicks off.
Match times during the world cup will be 5am and 7am, AEST, which means we can’t even go to the pub and yell obscure obscenities at projectors and spill beer on our work clothes and wear them like badges of honour.
What will happen is we’ll catch a few minutes of the second half through one blood shot eye, slipping into open un-ironed shirts and slinging a tie around us while savoring a cup of Nescafe Blend 43 and biting a piece of wholemeal toast wondering when Archie Thompson will get subbed on. Then you’ll realise that cult legend, Thompson, isn’t even in the squad.
We’ll sit on trains, buses, ferries and in car pool lanes. Stuck in traffic and refreshing our twitter feeds to see how many Fernando Torres has put past us. There’ll be one bloke streaming Andres Iniesta’s magic on a tablet and four other commuters peering over his shoulder. This is ourWorld Cup Fever.
For 32 years we would have killed just to be a part of this pageantry. This time around, most of the country will just catch the highlights on Fox Sports News along with the real issues, like who’s winning the Brownlow count.
By Ian Higgins