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World Cup: the upside to three straight losses

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.

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  • 1
    Don
    Posted Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I saw bits of the Chile game and with Better (honest) refereeing and without blatant cheating like pushing in te back (unpenalised)., I think Aust could/should have won.

    but even watching that bit was enough to convince me that I have no time to watch a game where the top is so thoroughly entrenched corruption & privilege, the referees take their lead from that and are likewise corrupt (remembering that many of these referees come from countries where wages are extremely low), lack adequate knowledge & experience, and/or are biased, and the players also blatantly CHEAT. when for example a player actually say flat out “so I cheat. so what?” does it for me.

    how can you watch a game when it has all come about through corruption & cheating?

    Not me.

  • 2
    mikeb
    Posted Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Australian soccor embracing the ANZAC tradition - celebrating defeat.

  • 3
    Posted Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Its proponents can start by calling the game its accepted name in Australia - soccer.

  • 4
    AR
    Posted Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Does that mean that T & radio progs can resume normal broadcasting?

  • 5
    The Pav
    Posted Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Lets not gloss over the facts
    1) The current happy feelings are because the expectations were so low that they manged not to plumb them
    2) They conceded THREE goals a game and were lucky it wan’t more
    3) We only got into the finals becasue the zone we are in is so weak. When there was a true qualifying test we repeeatedly failed. Australia didn’t really deserve to be there and the results prove it
    4) Of the three goals scored one was a lucky in off, one was a very soft penalty and possibly should not have been given and theb thrird was a freak from Cahill who never did it in the past and will never do it again

  • 6
    Phen
    Posted Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Its been a fantastic World Cup so far, and the fact that Australia hasn’t been embarrassed (as was reasonably expected) just makes it more so.

  • 7
    dr felonious
    Posted Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Has been a good World Cup. Has the potential to be a great World Cup - maybe the greatest. I love it how the level of competition is evening out. What soccer really needs is for a Costa Rica, Mexico, USA or some other (not the usual suspect) country to win it. A result like that would prove that soccer is on the level. FIFA also needs to follow up by taking another look at the Qatar World Cup.

    Sure we are not a real contender, but we sent the youngest team and we can have legitimate hopes for better next time - although I worry that Tim Cahills don’t grow on trees.

  • 8
    fractious
    Posted Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Phen, dr felonious, agreed. I’ve enjoyed just about every match I’ve managed to see so far, and the first two involving Australia (vs Chile and vs Holland) have been right up there with the best. I disagree with the OP’s (rather cliched) summation of the match against Chile - were it not for the fact we gave the match way in the first 20 mins or so the result would have been quite different. The Australian team made lots of errors in that match, many of them naive (giving Valdivia that much room was just mad), and it’s true that - aside from Chaill - they lack the clinical finishing that marks out BRazil, Argentina, Holland, Germany etc. All that said, the most encouraging things have been (apart from the fixture with Spain) their determination and the willingnes to play open football (no more tiki-taka, thanks be). And what this article fails to remind everyone of is that Postecoglou hasn’t had this team for very long - it takes years to build teams like Germany, Brazil and so on, not 6 months. I also like Postecoglou’s attitude - he can be a bit dour, but he’s also humble enough to admit where mistakes were made and where improvements can be sought.

    Their performance against Spain was a bit of a bummer; notwithstanding that, the experience of playing against the big guns will, along with Postecoglou’s coaching, help what is a young and inexperienced team make good.

    PS if the KO rounds turn out as good as (almost all) the group matches, it will be one of the best WC’s I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a few).

  • 9
    Superdry
    Posted Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    I fell in love with the soceroos concept As a young kid watching Australia in ‘97 against Iran at the mcg. They have a key advantage in that for me, they seem to inspire more passion than any other national team. They have done well for me to be competitive considering I didn’t even expect a goal. Bring on 2018!

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