We must continue to back the Socceroos

apaway Roar Rookie

By apaway, apaway is a Roar Rookie

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    In the past eight hours I’ve read that the Socceroos 4-0 defeat was the worst sporting performance by an Australian team (on the World Game), an unmitigated disaster (on The Roar), and a whole host of other things, ranging from a national disgrace to the death of the sport in this country.

    Robbie Slater called it “un-Australian.” Can anyone tell me what the expression “un-Australian” is supposed to represent?

    Save it for a while, it’ll side-track us. I listened with mounting horror to the outpouring of anger but a measure of sanity was provided from the most unlikely of sources – Craig Foster.

    I’ll admit, he spoke with something of a forked tongue, but after slamming Pim Verbeek’s selection and tactics for the game, he went on to say, “Yesterday, it was easy to be a Socceroos fan and wear the gold shirt. Today, it’s not so easy. But today is the day when it matters the most and when we really NEED to show our support.”

    True words, but they highlight something else, something that has been the silver lining that Mike Tuckerman couldn’t find in his overwhelmingly negative article – people care. I mean, I got calls today from friends and colleagues who don’t have a strong football affiliation, yet they wanted to know where we go from here, how did it go so wrong, and most tellingly, how awesome were those Germans, and how great was it to watch them? (Just, you know, not against us!).

    TV news, current affairs, morning shows, print media, websites and social media have blanket coverage of the tournament and consumers are lapping it up. It took a rugby league racism scandal to penetrate the domination of football’s sporting headlines, something league could have happily done without.

    It highlights something else for me and that is how completely immersed the country is in this World Cup. I was in Germany in 2006 and while the experience was unforgettable, what I didn’t see was how people back in Australia took to the tournament and the fortunes of our national team.

    This time, it is there for all to see, and it is as uplifting as the Germany result was disheartening. While other sports can point to stronger domestic leagues and larger fan bases, is their any in this country that could attract 25,000 fans to a site at four o’clock on a bitterly cold morning, to watch a game on a giant TV? In their dreams. For that matter, has any national team played in front of 30,000 fans so far from home, as the Socceroos have now done in two World Cups?

    I realise that much of this is to do with the stage – the World Cup is enormous, easily the biggest global sporting event held. But that also should ram home just how big a deal it is for the Socceroos to even be performing on that stage.

    Without doubt, a lot went wrong in Durban last night. Verbeek has accepted responsibility, and as a proud man I’m sure the result and the manner of its unfolding have wounded his pride. He has been roundly criticised for the selection of Richard Garcia as a striker, and for seeming to tinker with the 4-2-3-1 formation which has served the team well in the qualifiers. Also inarguable is that some high-profile players turned in awful games against a team we could ill-afford to be at anything but our best against. And were punished. In a way, it’s somewhat heartening that so many fans felt punished too.

    Given Verbeek’s post-match comments, I’m prepared to judge his and the team’s performance over the whole tournament. That might only be two more games but thousands of fans here and in South Africa are desperately hoping it is more.

    If it isn’t, then yes, as a football nation we will have been seen as under-achieving. But for long-time Socceroo fans, who suffered two generations of heartbreak, that notion itself was unthinkable not that long ago. The 4-0 loss was a terrible result, but an unmitigated disaster?

    How about Uruguay 2001, and a 3-0 loss in Montevideo which saw then-chairman Ian Knop admit there was “No Plan B?” What about Iran 1997, and the 2-2 draw that turned the MCG from a rock stadium to a funeral parlour in 10 terrible minutes? Or back even further, and a 2-0 loss to New Zealand in Sydney in 1981 which torpedoed the Socceroos campaign and Rudi Gutendorf’s coaching reign? Those are disasters, because each of them prevented Australia from even getting to the big dance.

    Even if it all ends in tears early next Sunday morning against Ghana, ask yourself this: would you swap places with Ecuador, Poland, Czech Republic, Iran, Croatia, Ukraine, Tunisia or Sweden. They were all at Germany ’06 but they’re not swaying to the sounds of the vivuzula in South Africa. And if you are really desperate for omens, try this one: Ukraine lost their first game in the 2006 tournament 4-0 to Spain, and went on to make the quarter finals.