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Australia’s a pretty isolated country.
Separate from the rumbles of the rest of the world, it means we may not hear of every movement, event, or happening. But despite our naturally ingrained love for sports played locally in the likes of AFL, rugby league, rugby union, cricket, tennis, swimming and netball, every four years you get reminded of an event that fosters our patriotic indulgence.
Football is a particularly popular junior sport, yet is lacking in talent when it comes to the senior A-League in comparison to the majority of other world leagues such as La Liga and the Premier League.
Yet just one look at the setting and atmosphere of a FIFA World Cup game and its obvious to see why so many Australians – Australians who couldn’t explain the offside rule – avidly awaken in the early morning to watch a game of football on the other side of the world.
It’s occurred with me every four years during my childhood.
Despite being a devoted Collingwood supporter, cricket lover and tennis follower, there’s something about a football World Cup that is simply intriguing. It began in Germany 2006, where our nation was aroused to this mystical and elusive tournament through the likes of Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill and John Aloisi.
I remember the PlayStation 2 game, the famous Zinedine Zidane head-butt, the glittery sunshine in Germany that played host to one pulsating party while the rest of my household commanded me to lower the TV volume with sleep-tussled hair. From then on, I’ve slowly understood why it is such a phenomenon for millions of Australians who don’t particularly enjoy or like soccer.
On the night of Australia versus France, a congregation of my friends and I at a party refused the normal dancing and socialising to instead watch the game in the living room, decked out in yellow and chatting about intricacies of the game that none of us were particularly experts in. And it was fantastic.
Since 2006, we have evolved to always get up and watch our Aussies, no matter how bad they are or who they play. I can recall the 2010 horror show against Germany, the 2014 opener against Chile where Cahill reared his talented head once more. But 2014’s Brazilian show reiterated why us Australians suddenly enjoy a sport once every four years.
When Cahill’s ridiculously good left footed volley brought all of awake Australia to their feet, it united us. And, in a world through our TV screens that is the opposite time zone to us, the comradery of watching during the early morning and the legends to tell from this well-run tournament appealed to our patriotism.
And that’s what it is. In a country that holds sport so dearly, who wouldn’t love a tournament where we can rally around our nation and cheer on our players against more powerful adversaries on the other side of the world?
We’re underdogs. It’s the Ashes but with more global recognition. It’s the Olympics but with more specific timeframes and a more cut-throat atmosphere. And regardless of what we think of soccer, Australians cherish this rare event because it appeals to everything Australian – to support Australia.
If it can do this to a country that doesn’t give its players millions, or doesn’t view it as the most popular sport in the nation, then imagine the impact it has on Spain, France, Germany.
By making us all feel worthy and powerful, along with the smooth and slick organisation, the inclusiveness of the FIFA World Cup makes it a spectacle that manages to entertain and enthral anyone, even the person who doesn’t particularly enjoy soccer. And which other sport can say that they do that to billions of people worldwide?