Thursday, 24 June 2010

What Our World Cup Tells Us

So the Socceroos are now out, left stranded from the calamity that was the loss to Germany. Despite a strong showing with 10 men against Ghana and beating a good Serbian outfit, those 4 goals the Germans scored in game one was the difference. So close yet so far, we couldn't get out of the group stage. And unlike France, our exit barely rates a mention on the world radar.

But before we engage in "what-ifs" and then consign the Socceroos (and Pim Verbeek) to the scrap heap, perhaps it is wise to reflect on what they did rather than what could have been.

This is the 2nd world cup we've made in a row, and the first one where we had to fight it out over more than just two legs. Getting through Asia was no lean feat, especially going in unseeded and being the first team (along with Japan and Netherlands) to qualify for the World Cup. At times it wasn't pretty, but we earned the right to be there. Back in 2006, we got there on effectively a coin toss.

In 2006 we got further, fans are still seething over the Italian dive that eliminated us. Then it was only Ukraine in our way and into the semi-finals! Whoops, engaging in a "what-if" again. Both world cups we ended on 4 points, through by virtue of a draw between the other two teams vying for 2nd place behind Brazil. We beat Japan while Croatia didn't. Thus we only needed 4 points.

Truth be told, we were lucky to get to the 2nd round. Japan might have been fortunate to get their goal, but the 3-1 score line wasn't reflective of the game. We had to come from behind twice against Croatia, good result but hardly a comfortable path beyond the group stages. Even in the round of 16, Italy played for almost half a match with 10 men and we barely had a chance.

This time around, Germany was our only down-point, the 1-1 draw against Ghana with only 10 men for 70-odd minutes was a rugged display. Serbia were tough and looked dangerous at times, but so did we and the result was well-deserved. Yet "first round exit" will forever be associated with Pim while Guus gets nothing but praise for guiding us to the 2nd round.

The 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar is only just over 6 months away and it's that event that should take focus. There's no point in talking about how Australia does on the world stage before we are Asian champions. A huge lot of media focus once every four years and the eventual dissection is only going to perpetuate Australia being a bit-part of the football landscape.

This World Cup if nothing else we should have proved to ourselves that we deserved to be there. Yet now that we are gone, what can we say about the impact on the game? Over the last few weeks, I've heard more about Harry Kewell's health than I know about my own. Very little about tactics, more about fitness of key players. To the uninitiated, merely another part of a sideshow that will now be relegated behind the weekly Aussie Rules and Rugby League.

Every 4 years the Olympics comes around, and coverage is pretty much purely in the pursuit of Australian gold - not the spectacle itself, but how many medals we won compared to the rest of the world. It's chasing national glory on the hard work of a few individuals. It's no surprise that most our medals are won in the pool, it's what Olympic sport gets coverage beyond the few weeks of glory. A winner in an obscure sport is a sideshow, we can bask in the glory of the DIY champion then back to the footy or cricket depending on the time of year.

Yet history shows that individual determination and the DIY attitude isn't enough. All nations that have won the world cup live and breathe football. Even the nations who have never won but are serious contenders all share this same distinction. How can we possibly hope to share in Johnny Warren's dream of winning the World Cup until we do this?

I forget, we aren't a football nation. Just a mix of football bandwagoners who can bask in the glory when our team does well and dismiss the sport on the grounds of diving and draws when it does not. We owe it to our team not to be bandwagoners hoping to add to a long list of sports we dominate already because we will never get there.

The wrangling over stadia for a hypothetical World Cup bid was pathetic. The NRL and AFL both turned it into a pissing contest, and for what exactly? It's unlikely that we'll actually get the World Cup, it was no more than an alpha male display. Yet another part of the sideshow...

As I said before, I'm going to enjoy this tournament regardless of the Socceroos lack of participation. The best football talent is on display, and if interest can continue to be shown even in the absence of Australian participation, perhaps more people can see why football is referred to as "the beautiful game".

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