Melbourne loves to proclaim itself the sporting capital of Australia, but it seems some fans keep forgetting to check their A-League allegiances at the door when supporting the Socceroos.
Australia’s routine 7-0 victory over Bangladesh on Thursday night was the perfect way for Graham Arnold’s team to kick-start their 2026 World Cup qualification campaign.
Jamie Maclaren bagged a second-half hat-trick on his home ground, Mitch Duke and Brandon Borrello looked effective up front in the first half, and the towering Harry Souttar reminded the rest of Asia that he’s arguably the most dangerous set-piece finisher on the continent.
The only thing missed was a stoppage-time penalty, with Massimo Luongo’s stutter-step spot-kick easily saved by Bangladesh’s outstanding teenager goalkeeper, Mitul Marma.
All in all it was as comfortable a win as could be expected on a chilly night in Melbourne, even if plenty of Socceroos fans would have loved to have seen a debut goal from second-half substitute, Kusini Yengi.
The former Adelaide United and Western Sydney Wanderers striker has made a decent start to life at League One leaders Portsmouth, with the powerful front man the latest in a long line of attempts to unearth a genuine No.9 up front.
Newly promoted Machida Zelvia striker Duke has performed as well as anyone in the role, but Arnie and his coaching staff would no doubt love to find another goal-scorer with an equally imposing physical presence.
Yengi went close with one near-post drive that was well saved by Marma, while it invariably made sense to allow Luongo to take the penalty given his seniority – even if the Ipswich Town midfielder’s unconvincing effort suggests that should probably be the last one he takes.
But while the Socceroos learned a few lessons on the pitch against an obviously outmatched Bangladeshi outfit, a few aspects off the pitch left a bit to be desired.
Starting with the fact that eight months after the Socceroos last played on Australian soil – an ill-tempered 2-1 friendly defeat to Ecuador at Docklands – the national team returned to the same city once again to face an opponent with all the box office appeal of a trip to the dentist.
Football Australia has made it abundantly clear that Socceroos games are for sale to the highest bidder, and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the key qualifying home games for the 2022 FIFA World Cup were all played in either Sydney and Melbourne.
But the FIFA Women’s World Cup has replenished the coffers and it’s hard to understand why second-round qualifiers against minnows like Bangladesh can’t be played in cities like Canberra or Perth – or even, weather permitting, Townsville – that rarely see competitive fixtures.
That’s especially the case when none of Australia’s recent fixtures in Sydney or Melbourne have gone close to selling out.
But perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Socceroos’ win over Bangladesh was not the attendance figure – officially announced as 20,876 at the ground we all know as AAMI Park – but the fact that a vocal minority of supporters felt their allegiance to Melbourne Victory was more important than supporting the national team.
We all heard the anti-Sydney FC chants. Some fans in the stands also alleged that Maclaren was even booed after bagging his hat-trick.
And in days gone by, the older members of Australia’s home end would have told those who aimed club-based chants at the national team to pull their heads in.
But after five consecutive trips to the World Cup finals, plenty of older fans have dropped off – and the vacuum has been filled by the sort of anti-social internet tough guys who now appear to make up Melbourne Victory’s home end.
Some of their chants on Thursday night were embarrassing.
And with the Socceroos having already pledged to donate a percentage of their match fees from tomorrow night’s clash with Palestine in Kuwait towards humanitarian aid, it’s a shame some fans can’t seem to leave their club allegiances at the door when supporting the national team.