In those mad, exhilarating moments after John Aloisi struck the penalty shootout goal that sent Australia into World Cup delirium, the other football codes must have felt a collective shudder that the genie is now well and truly out of the bottle.
Against a committed and fractious Uruguay, it was never going to be pretty or remotely easy to end Australia’s 32-year World Cup drought. That it took 120 minutes-plus of regulation and extra time, and more fouls than an Ingham poultry farm, just to reach the ultimate dread of football’s equivalent of Russian roulette via the penalty shoot-out, guaranteed us nothing up to that point. After so much previous grief at the death when it came to qualifying for football’s biggest stage, surely this ultimate end game wouldn’t yet again leave us to cope with another monumental squandered opportunity?
But we not only lived to see the end of our World Cup purgatory following a decisive 4-2 penalty knock out, but everyone at the stadium or sharing in those TV pictures of jubilation as the whole nation went into a euphoric meltdown at mission accomplished, will take them to their grave. In a year of already unforgettable Australia sporting firsts, this is surely the chart topper.
But if anyone is entitled to some credit from this result, let’s not forget the intervention of Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy who had the guts to dial up an 11th hour lifeline and bring in Holland’s Guus Hiddink to save our cup hide when Frank Farina was clearly not up to the task.
While in no way diminishing the contribution of the players themselves to get the job done against the odds; it was still “Aussie” Guus Hiddink who made all the difference, as time and again last night he pulled all the right moves and remained a stoic picture of calm, unlike his
combustible coaching rival.
That Australia so brilliantly played Uruguay off the pitch – and the regular time 1-0 result didn’t at all reflect such superiority – also makes a mockery of FIFA politics that have, until recently, seen us treated like some unwanted child.
The result also turns on its ear the laughable FIFA world rankings that, going into the Uruguay tie, had them ranked 17th, up some eight places on their previous position, while Australia fell four spots to be a lowly 54th.
The next rankings are issued on 23 November, and seeing as we’ve made our way to the top 32 in Germany, it will be interesting to see what this win does in inevitably moving us up the table; given not only last night’s win but the fact that we had the same result in Uruguay, a 1-0 away loss, as visiting fourth-ranked Argentina just a month ago.
Our German hosts are winners in all this too – FIFA will reap a financial windfall from having Australia (and its sporting fans) in Germany rather than the much poorer and smaller Uruguay.
And if you had to pick the biggest losers outside of the Uruguayans, step forward our commercial TV networks, who must now deal with even greater passion by domestic viewers for the 2006 cup tournament. Additionally the three rival football codes that must now face a new reality which overnight tells them the world game has grown an extra leg or three in this country in the past 24 hours.
Another consequence of our qualification, which will pay an almost immediate dividend internationally, is the enthusiasm leading European teams will now show in wanting to play the Socceroos in pre-tournament friendlies; including host Germany and hopefully England who have unfinished business with us. And what price the FFA keen to see “Aussie” Guus taking his coals to Newcastle and arranging a Socceroos fixture with Holland?
Sporting revolutions don’t usually manifest themselves in just 24 hours, but overnight we have seen just that – and things can only get better for the Socceroos and the game domestically.