Django Merope Synge|
Jun 24, 2014 12:51PM |EMAIL|PRINT
Australia lost all of its World Cup matches and is on the plane home — but Aussie freelance writer Django Merope Synge, who’s in Rio for the tournament, has drunk the Kool Aid and sees the positives.
Well that’s that, then. Australia’s World Cup campaign is officially over for another four years with a 3-0 thrashing by Spain early this morning (AEST). But as the usual SBS talking heads weigh in on our performance at Brazil 2014, one thing’s been clear from the very beginning: winning even one match was never one of our objectives here.
To be fair, we were drawn into a tough group — Spain, Holland and a rampant Chile are a hard ask. But more than 15,000 Australians made the long trek to Brazil, second only to the number from the United States. For a notoriously loss-adverse nation, that’s a lot of gluttons for punishment. Obviously some Aussies came mostly to get drunk, sunburnt and soak up some of the atmosphere. But curiously, a great many are here because we had no chance of winning. Let me explain …
Ask some of the kinder fans walking around in Australian green ‘n’ gold, and they’ll tell you that losing-time is the most important time to support Australian football. And they definitely say “Australian football”, not Australia. For many of our strongest round-ball enthusiasts, Australia conquering the football world is much less important than the football world conquering Australia.
Association football as a sport is cosmopolitan and globalised in a way that NRL, AFL and V8 Supercars can never be. Being a soccer nation is being part of a global fraternity, and for many, their nation caring about soccer is far more important than being good at it.
Accordingly, the start of our campaign was wearily familiar. A 3-1 loss to Chile followed by the usual hand wringing … this little routine is now so familiar I think Frank Lowy and Football Federation Australia just photocopy the same sheet of talking points and pass it on to every new Australian coach or captain.
But the the Netherlands game in Porto Alegre last Thursday (AEST) took us all by surprise. Sure, we lost 3-2. But we scared those Dutch bastards. To think that just a few days ago they had utterly humiliated Spain, the defending champions, 5-1 and that we scared them.
Suddenly, Australia cared. After the final whistle the Aussies in the stadium were singing louder than the Dutch, prouder than the Dutch. Anyone walking by would have though Australia had won some famous victory. Graciousness in defeat is something to be proud of, but jubilant exaltation after a loss must be unique in the football world.
For many Australian fans the story was more important than the scoreboard. By taking the fight to a world-class opposition, Australia was talked about, noticed, admired — abroad, and more importantly, at home. Overnight, we became one little bit more of a football nation.
In fact, by the time today’s Spain match rolled round no one really seemed to care anymore. In Rio de Janeiro it was almost impossible to find a TV showing it because Holland was playing Chile at the same time. Even the Australian fans seemed happy not to watch (“oh, you’re not showing the Australia versus Spain game here? Yeah, no worries mate, I understand …”). And no one minded that the team was basically asleep standing up on the pitch, because our mission in Brazil was already accomplished. After the game, instead of singing in the streets, Australian fans went back to their hotels or Airbnb rentals for a quiet beer and a good night’s sleep. New coach Ange Postecoglou probably summed it up best in the post-match press conference: “There is no way this result affects what we have done here.”
But that’s all over now. It’s time to pack up the circus and go home. One step closer to the Australian football establishment’s long-term goal of popularising association football in this country.
Meanwhile, Chile also lost its game today. And yet the streets are awash with a sea of vermillion as thousands of Chilean fans desperately comfort each other with their strangely endearing chant … “CHI CHI CHI!! LE LE LE!! VIVA CHILE!!!”
Australian fans heading wearily home after this campaign can’t help but sneak an envious glance at the Chilean emotion and companionship and think maybe, just maybe, we should care a little bit more about winning.