This was a game that Australian football needed to have. Would I have preferred a win? Certainly. When the scores were locked at 2-2 and Tommy Oar crossed the ball to Matthew Leckie in front of goal, he should have laid it on his feet or planted it on his head. Instead Oar crossed awkwardly at chest height and the ball was promptly saved, tossed down the other end where Memphis landed the killer blow.
But no one, I doubt even the most ardent Socceroos supporter, would have expected the game to unfold as it did. That magical Cahill goal which will surely go down as a contender for goal of the tournament and cements his legacy as the greatest player to wear the green and gold jersey. He has scored five World Cup goals – more than Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi combined. He has scored in three tournaments, a feat accomplished by only four other players including the likes of Pele and Klose.
More importantly, the game also showed us there was life in Australian football after the Golden Generation of 2006. It showed that a team that is predominantly made up of A-League alumni can hold their own with the best in the world. After this game, we’re not happy simply making up the numbers. We know that on our day, we have it in us to beat the very best. An oft retweeted message amongst Socceroos fans quoted an Italian sports journalist as saying ‘if Australia can learn to defend with as much skill and energy they apply to other areas of the field, they will be a force to be reckoned with.’ There’s a lot of truth to that.
It’s a credit to Ange Postecoglou that he has managed to build this squad with just three pre-tournament friendlies for preparation. Imagine where the squad could have been if the past two Socceroos coaches hadn’t simply been handed short-sighted mandates to get us to qualify for the next major tournament and completely neglect youth development. Leckie, Oar, Halloran, Davidson can all become stars in the national squad. They’ve just had absolutely no time to prepare and have been thrown in the lion’s den. They’ve performed roughly at times but they’d drawn admirers the world over for the character they’ve shown.
This game showed the way forward for the sport in Australia and changed how we look at our national squad. We want more. We believe we can achieve more.
For now though, we’re out of this World Cup. Our final game of the tournament is against Spain, the defending champs. They’re out of the tournament too. It’s a dead rubber. And everyone I know here is daring to dream and hoping that the Socceroos can go out with a bang.