Now that the Socceroos have qualified for the biggest show on earth, we can all rest easy after months of tension and soul-searching.
Tuesday night showed just how much feeling there is for the Socceroos, as 83,523 people ignored the rain and cold to cheer on our best-loved national team.
The sudden resurgence of interest will no doubt please the FFA, who did everything they could over the past few weeks to resuscitate the Socceroos brand.
A sell-out crowd featuring an all-new support crew – Terrace Australis – wall-to-wall media attention and millions more viewers on free-to-air television all contributed to a wonderful month for Australian football.
Fans from around the country converged on ANZ Stadium to will the Socceroos on. Such is the depth of feeling for the green and gold that football nutters made the pilgrimage from all across the country.
One guy even made his way from London via the Trans-Siberian railroad.
Their show of faith was rewarded. The final three games against Japan, Jordan and Iraq showed while the Socceroos aren’t quite what they used to be, they are still fantastic to watch with their backs against the wall.
The players seemed both relieved and triumphant after the match, having borne the brunt of much criticism during their hot and cold qualifying campaign. In particular, the enormous effort over the final few weeks from senior players Mark Schwarzer, Lucas Neill and Mark Bresciano is to be applauded.
It was also a rare moment of glory for Holger Osiek. While his players still struggle to play the kind of football fans have come to expect from the national team, his performance on the night was decisive.
Bringing off talismanic Timmy Cahill – the man who had a major Sydney expressway temporarily renamed after him just hours before – for Australia’s forgotten saviour Josh Kennedy was Guus Hiddink-esque.
Osiek may not like the comparison, but it was one of the few times that we’ve witnessed the German publicly stamp his authority on the squad in a manner reminiscent of ‘Aussie Guus’. His high-stakes gamble paid off with interest, as Kennedy stepped up to nod the ball home just minutes from full time.
As Mr Motorway Tim Cahill himself conceded after the match, “If it was Guus Hiddink you’d have given him credit, so I’d love to see Osiek given the credit now.”
Hiddink’s reign was characterised by his willingness to put high-profile noses out of joint for the good of the team. He happily kept Socceroos stars like Mark Schwarzer, Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell guessing, and nobody was guaranteed their place in the starting XI.
Let’s hope Osiek can channel some of that swagger going forward in the World Cup preparations. The simple fact is now we’ve made it to Brazil, regenerating the squad will be priority number one.
We were supposed to start rebuilding properly back in 2006 after Hiddink departed, but the thirst for glory has seen the process stagnate. But while it’s long overdue, now is the perfect time for transition.
Tommy Oar, Robbie Kruse, Mark Milligan and Tommy Rogic have all shown enough to suggest they are up to the standard of their peers. We’ve just got to have a little faith and a little patience.
In particular, Tommy Rogic needs to be ushered into the starting XI as soon as possible. With Australia producing fewer and fewer ‘game-changers’, Rogic is a precious talent that we must not waste.
Many fans might not like hearing it, but our results in Brazil hardly matter. What matters is that we’re there. You might not win anything with kids right away, but there is no shame in using the tournament as part of a broader rebuilding phase.
As strange as it may seem, it’s already time to start planning for the Asian Cup in 2015 and Russia 2018.
Yesterday was a time for celebration, a time to rest sore heads and hoarse throats. Tomorrow will be a time for some cold-hearted honesty and self-awareness of the level we’re currently at.
We’re off to Rio, but our sights should be set further down the track.