Bonza Saturday

I would count last Saturday, a week ago today, as one of the happier days in recent Australian history.

For a start it was the day of the Asian Cup final, where Australia were playing South Korea in Sydney for the title. Like many Australians, and those throughout the region, and beyond, I’d followed the tournament keenly throughout. It was a great and successful event, hosted in Oz for the first time. I was surprised at the crowds. Ours were good, but that was expected, but it was uncertain how games between relative minnows might be received. As it turned out, very well. It was an event well received by all, which confirmed two things – not many countries do Sporting events as well as Australia does. They’re always ripper, which is another reason its tragic we missed out on the 2022 World Cup. The other reason relates to that, and doubles the tragedy – soccer – football – is ripe in Australia. The time is right.

I watched all but one of the Australian games with Cheeseboy, mostly with a bottle of red and a plateful of cheese. For the final we went to another friends. There was a barbecue on, then we al gathered around the TV. As I had for most of the tournament I wore my 2006 WC Socceroos jersey.

It was a great game. A crowd 77,000 rocked up and created a great atmosphere. The game itself, for once, lived up to the hype. These two teams had played earlier in the tournament. On that occasion Australia had mostly dominated, but it was the Koreans who had come away with a 1 nil win. That’s soccer.

This game the teams were much more evenly matched. For large swathes of it South Korea held sway. It was Australia who took the lead though, and looked likely to win by that single goal until with 2 minutes left of added time the Koreans equalised. It went to extra time.

That was danger. The Koreans got a kick along, as you’d expect. For the Socceroos it was a kick in the guts. The big risk in those circumstances is that the team will deflate, and the other team will rise and dominate. It’s a tough team though the Socceroos, and with an astute coach in charge it was Australia who took charge in extra time, and a cracking goal eventuated. That was the margin – 2-1 to Australia, the first soccer trophy we’ve ever won.

While that was happening the Queensland state election was taking place. The incumbents were the LNP, led by Campbell Newman, possibly the most toxic and unpleasant state premier in Australian history. The worst state government is probably the NSW Labor of a few years ago, but this government had done very little right for the people of the state, while feathering their own nest, and the nests of their corporate partners. It was a nasty government that deserved to go, but given a huge majority – something like 80 seats to 9, it would take just a miracle to unseat them (though I suggested to Whisky a few weeks prior that a sneaky wager on the Labor party at 9-1 might not be a bad bet).

As it has turned out the miracle is a photo-finish. While I was watching the soccer I was checking the results on Twitter. Exit polls suggested that Labor might get up, an extraordinary assessment roundly ridiculed by the critics. As the night went on, however, one seat after another fell to the ALP, including Campbell Newman’s.

It was an amazing night. The soccer was mesmerising, while at the same time history was being made in Queensland – history we all knew well would have much broader implications – as it has proved. I went to bed that night knowing that Australia had secured the Asian Cup, and that the result in Queensland was borderline, but tipped in favour of the ALP.

That’s not yet been resolved. Counting continues, but effectively there’s a hung parliament, and more likely than not the ALP will do a deal with the necessary independents to govern in their own right.

As for federally – wow. But I’ll write about that another time.


Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou says success at World Cup is a matter of belief

Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou says success at World Cup is a matter of belief.

So the World Cup has begun, and for the Socceroos, kicks off tomorrow. I may come from a land where AFL footy and cricket are pre-eminent, but I’m bloody excited. This is a great event.

Australia has been written off, as they are just about every time they appear. On paper that’s probably fair. On the one hand the Socceroos have experienced a pretty tumultuous 18 months with a change in coach, and a huge turnover in players – out with the old, in with the new.

And there’s no doubting the pedigree of the teams we’ll be coming up against. We play the two finalists from the 2010 World Cup, as well as up and comers Chile tomorrow. No two ways we’re the minnows in this group.

I’m an Aussie though, and want to see Australia do well. Wishing doesn’t make it so, but at least I can point to history to give me some measure of confidence.

It’s rare than an Australian team takes the field in any sport and disappoints. One of our great strengths – possibly our greatest – is our competitiveness, aggression, and sheer fighting spirit. In those aspects we lord it just about everyone else in the world. It’s not the same as technical skills or top-level experience, but it means mostly that we’ll make it hard for whoever we play,. We’ll stay in the contest, will use our edge in strength and athleticism, and on the counter-attack are capable of surprise. We won’t lose it – you have to beat us.

Postecoglou is the right coach for us. Going back over 4 years ago I was usually critical of our coach of the time in the way he coached and prepared us. He was scared of the challenge ahead, and rather than taking it on – as we are taught from childhood to do – he sought to minimise the risk.

That’s not the Australian DNA. Pick a sport, any sport, and we’re up and at ’em. Forget rankings, our style has always been to take the game on. That’s our strength as people. We refuse on principle to be intimidated or overawed. Fuck that, lets show these characters what we can do.

What happened in 2010 was a betrayal of that spirit, and the result followed. Postecoglou knows that. He’s an Aussie. He knows it from long experience as does every player in the squad (reference how many times they speak publicly of the Australian will to win), and so too does the public. We’d rather lose fighting for every scrap than give it away thinking we’re not good enough.

I like Postecoglou’s style. He’s not a big talker, but he exudes authority and belief. He believes in attacking, ambitious football. It’s a kind of game that will make players better because they must elevate themselves to that level. It’s the kind of game that makes us as a playing outfit more dangerous and formidable. Teams taking on must be wary knowing that we can hurt them. We’ll be trying to win, not play it safe.

Then there’s Tim Cahill. I doubt there is a more iconic Aussie soccer player than Cahill. He embodies everything I wrote of about Aussie spirit. Listen to him talk, he’s an inspiration. Watch the way he goes about it, he’s a believer. With him up front – and given his record – anything is possible.

What do I think? I think we’re a chance against Chile. They’re vulnerable defensively. I think we’ll score against them. The trick is to stop them scoring. I think we’ll beat Holland. They can be fragile, they’re on the re-build, and we have a good record against them. The best we can hope for against Spain is a draw, and that will take some luck – but you never know.

We’re in the group of death, but we aint dead yet. Go Aussies. I’ll be watching.