But this time, like last time, we are there. And that changes things as a spectator. While I would love Australia to win and hope they do, realistically I'm expecting them to exit. Because ultimately while teams in our position occasionally make fairy-tale runs, we're there to make up the numbers. I don't say that cynically, plenty of nations are there that won't win. But even to get that far (remember this is the finals, it takes years of hard work to qualify) is a fantastic achievement and something to be proud of our team for doing.
For years Australia was a big fish in a small pond, dominating a region of Island nations where the closest thing to a challenge was taking on the rugby nation of New Zealand. Getting to the 2006 World Cup at the expense of Uruguay and moving into Asia were huge for our development as a football nation. That we qualified for the finals and were among the first nations to do so (Japan and Netherlands qualified that same day) should be enough.
Nonetheless I'm still disappointed when we lose. The match against Germany was pathetic, they are a better team and traditional world cup powerhouse, but still it was painful to watch. Perhaps we as Australians aren't used to being a small nation in any sport, we're either world contenders or we just don't care. Football is something the whole world cares about and we aren't on top!
The atrocious time zones make watching games tough. I pushed sleep last night to catch the Socceroos draw with Ghana, wrapped in a blanket and staring intently at the television. It was a game we (as in Australia, collectively, expressing themselves through a sporting team) needed to win and we couldn't do it. But thanks to Serbia shocking Germany, qualifying is still a real possibility however improbable. If we can beat Serbia, we stand a chance of qualifying regardless of the outcome in the game between Germany and Ghana.
It's not guaranteed that if we win we qualify. We have to win convincingly, how convincingly depends on the outcome for the other game. If we lose or draw, we're out so those results aren't to be considered. So take the three outcomes.
- Germany win - If I were a betting man this is the outcome I would bet on. If Germany beat Ghana, the margin in that game and our game matters. Ghana are currently +1 in their goal difference while we are -4. We have to get a higher goal difference or equal to where we score a greater number of goals. So if Germany win 1-0, we'd have to win by 4 goals against Serbia. A 3 - 0 score-line would mean we have to by 2 goals.
- A draw - If there's a draw then we would need to win by 7 goals, maybe 8 if the draw is a 3-3 score-line. So it is possible but terribly unlikely.
- Ghana win - We would only need to win against Serbia if Ghana manage to upset Germany.
Of course Serbia have a say in all this too, it's not just pure will on account of our Socceroos. But in sport it never is. But all is not lost yet, and it's not purely on the hope that things will go our way (unlike France who will be knocked out regardless of their result if Mexico and Uruguay draw). We can qualify regardless of the result in the other game and that's enough to give me hope. A fool's hope, but hope nonetheless.
Unlike fans of England, inevitable exit is an expectation rather than seen as a perpetual failure. Truth be told, I'm just happy our team is there. The performance last night was enough to show that we did deserve our place in the final 32 even if we don't go beyond that. Playing with 10 men for over half a man and holding our own against one of the best African nations going while showing the resolve we normally characterise with being Australian, it was something positive to take away. And when we do go out, there's still going to be enough great football to watch, but it will be different. Aussies are used to being passive observers of the world up, which is what we will go back to being the moment we lose. Until that time, I reserve my right as a spectator to engage in all the highs and lows and feeling robbed by dodgy refs that comes with being one!