I’ve written absolutely zero about the World Cup in the lead up to it though, as always, I am a keen spectator. I think I probably watched every qualifying match the Socceroos played, as well as a random sampling of other games. Regardless I followed the results closely.
Coming into the World Cup had that native Aussie optimism that says we’re always a chance because we always have a red hot go. That’s a notion that gets pooh-poohed by the soccer snobs who subscribe to the view that craft and artistry count for more, but I’m confident enough to believe that we have enough craft to get by – our edge is our mentality. It won’t win us the cup, but it’s sufficient to cause the odd upset and progress beyond what most other pundits predict. Tough as it will be, I still think the Socceroos will progress to the next stage.
Our first match was on Saturday night. I joined Cheeseboy and his son (who is quite a player himself) at their place where over a bottle of wine we watched the game against France. The French are one of the big picks to win the whole shebang and have stars all over the park. I think I read they’re valued collectively at about $1.8 billion, whereas the Socceroos squad are valued at less than $180 million. Never a great respecter of reputations that meant fuck-all to most Aussies – the game isn’t played on paper.
As it turned out it was a compelling match. As expected France came on strong early, but Australia resisted. The thinking was the longer the French went without scoring the more pressure they would feel. At half-time the score was 0-0, with the Socceroos having asserted themselves more in the back half of the period.
Come the second half they looked the better team at times, but fell behind to a controversial, and probably incorrect, VAR penalty ruling. The French would have heaved a sigh of relief, but within minutes the scores were level again thanks to a penalty of our own.
Watching it there was the belief that Australia could pinch a win, but then a Paul Pogba shot took a deflection, hit the top bar, and bounced just inside the goal before out of it. We were down 2-1, with both goals decided by technology, and both with centimetres in it.
That was the final score. I know I’m biased, but we were pretty stiff. The penalty given was probably incorrect, and the legitimate goal was a matter of good fortune. We played determined, disciplined football, much as you expect from an Aussie team. As we always say, we were brave.
It was quite a contrast to the French team, who have style and talent and quality to burn, but play more as individuals, and indulge I what are – to Australian acts – shameful acts of staging. I was disgusted, as was the Dutch Cheeseboy, how even the slightest touch (and sometimes not even that) would result in a French player falling to the ground in alleged agony and the gullible ref whistling them a free kick. It’s pretty cheap, and borderline cheating.
France is a team I wouldn’t mind winning it in general, probably because I remember Zidane, one of my favourite players. I might re-think that now. Playing honest is an Australian virtue, and they didn’t do that.
Despite the loss the Socceroos can take a lot out of the game. They played well without winning, but the goal difference will work in our favour should France fire up against the other teams. We’re certainly capable of winning against both Denmark and Peru, in what will be very different games. The Danes were lucky winners against Peru, who I see as the real danger.
On to next Thursday when we take on Denmark. Will be watching.