It’s a real shame that the Socceroos’ gallant victory over Serbia was a mere sidebar on a historic day as Julia Gillard became our first female Prime Minister. As the Socceroos exited the 2010 World Cup with their heads held high, Kevin Rudd’s exit tears upstaged Lucas Neill’s.
With Australia’s focus inevitably on the leadership change within the Labor Party and Rudd’s demise, the Socceroos were bumped back to the back pages.
It’s not what they needed.
Their battle for redemption was overshadowed in the Ghana match by the controversy surrounding Harry Kewell’s red card and the subsequent penalty, while the rousing win against Serbia was overshadowed by politics.
Their campaign was deflated by the heavy defeat to Germany; both in terms of their ability to progress and limiting the bandwagon support back home.
Following the defeat viewing figures plunged and sadly that will be the lasting image many people may have of the 2010 World Cup campaign.
But as we know the Socceroos’ turn around was as drastic as Rudd’s demise.
The record books show they matched their 2006 haul of a win, draw and loss. But let’s not forget the manner in which they fought back into contention from the opening defeat, with a squad weaker than the 2006 version (certainly in terms of strikers), in a tougher group with a coach tactically less adept, and with the limitations of suspensions to two of our most important attacking options for our two most important games.
These factors make for an impressive campaign for the 2010 Socceroos, despite not reaching the final 16 as they did in 2006.
While pride was the overwhelming emotion after the match, there was also anger at what could have been had it not been for the defeat to Germany. It’s the inescapable reality we must face up to and, as I wrote earlier in the week, it should be remembered as an example of the attitude the Socceroos must never take into another game, no matter the perceived strength of the opponent.
Verbeek will now exit stage left with his tactical misjudgements and approach to the Germany game damaging his
legacy on Australian football.
Any damage done to the Socceroos brand as a result of the Germany defeat is likely to disappear with him, having become a much-maligned figure in his final days.
His comments to the Dutch press, which lead to Craig Foster’s latest outburst on last night’s SBS World Cup coverage, show yet again the lack of faith he had in his bench – something that was ultimately proved wrong.
And this is the focus for us now – the next generation of Socceroos.
The likes of Carney, Wilkshire, Cahill and co are still young enough for another campaign.
But with Craig Moore (34), Scott Chipperfield (34), Mark Schwarzer (37) and Harry Kewell (31 but with a groin approaching 71) unlikely to make it to 2014, attention must turn to the second tier Socceroos.
Some of them are already exerting their influence.
Carl Valeri’s impressive and steady performances in South Africa, especially in contrast with Vince Grella’s struggles, make him a guaranteed starter.
Melbourne Heart’s Michael Beauchamp is likely to replace Moore in the centre-back role (if the next Socceroos coach is more sympathetic to the A-League), with Rhys Williams also looming in the shadow for that role.
Brett Holman, the undisputed golden boy of the 2010 campaign with his goals against New Zealand (at the MCG farewell match), Ghana and Serbia, will help us plug the striker shortage and will hopefully be given more license to go forward in a more attacking Socceroos team under the next coach.
With the likes of Nikita Rukavytsya, Richard Garcia, Mark Milligan, Mile Jedinak and Dario Vidošić on the brink of the starting eleven, and Shane Lowry, James Holland, Tommy Oar, Mathew Leckie and Ben Kantarovski with the potential to develop exponentially over the coming years, the next generation of Socceroos doesn’t look as bleak as many fear.
And let’s not forget the multitude of young Aussies scattered around Europe and emerging through the A-League and national youth league.
Beyond the golden generation, there is a nucleus of a team to build around as attention turns to January’s Asian Cup and qualifying for Brazil 2014.
But, as we’ve seen so clearly at this World Cup, they need a coach who can utilise these options to the best of their ability.
As Craig Foster argues, it’s one of the biggest decisions the FFA face in a crucial year for the code.
With the A-League set to kick-off in August, with the Melbourne Heart debuting and attention on the struggles of earlier expansion franchises in North Queensland and the Gold Coast, the FFA will be hoping for some sort of boost from the World Cup euphoria.
In December we discover if our bid for the 2022 World Cup is successful just as the new Socceroos coach prepares for the Asian Cup a month later.
Let’s hope the Socceroos can build on the momentum they showed in the final group match in Asia because, in case you missed it while watching Julia take the Lodge, they played bloody well, leaving us to ask what could have been with a Round of 16 clash against the beatable USA and a quarter-final match against Asian rivals South Korea or our old nemesis Uruguay.
Across the Tasman there has been so much political upheaval to overshadow the exploits of the All Whites, who can hold their heads high after exiting the tournament undefeated following a 0-0 draw with Paraguay.
Finishing a point above the defending champions Italy, as well as holding them to a draw, is a remarkable achievement, and full credit to Ricki Herbert and co.
As for Italy, the defending champs when out swinging in a remarkable match against Slovakia but were too impotent throughout the rest of the tournament, undoubtedly hamstrung by the absence of Andrea Pirlo.
They won’t be missed based on their earlier performances.
There is a great line doing the rounds on the Internet which says this World Cup is developing a lot like World War Two – France surrender early, USA leave it late to get going, and Germany and England fight it out.
Now we can add Italy providing nothing meaningful to the battle with a limp attack.
As for Australia, it was a spirited campaign that did much for showcasing Aussie grit on the world stage.
It’s just a shame about that early German blitzkrieg in Durban.