When John Aloisi struck the
final penalty in last Wednesday night’s World Cup qualifier, things
changed forever in Australian football. And by football, I mean soccer,
because that’s what they’re calling it now and some people are going to
have to start accepting that.

Whether we like it or not the
round-ball game is going to be a major player in Australian sport in
coming years, and especially over the next eight months in the lead-up
to and during the World Cup finals in Germany.

This is
well-reflected in the frenzied media coverage that has seen this
country’s biggest newspapers dedicate front pages, middle pages, back
pages and plenty in between to World Cup qualification, leaving the
Wallabies’ woes, AFL pre-season and the cricket test series against the
Windies in its wake.

Papers have printed everything from
articles about Guus Hiddink’s matchday routine to baby photos of
Australia’s new favourite sons. And why not? Local football has never
had it so good. But the excitement will die down, and with coverage
already diminishing the sceptics and naysayers are again on the prowl.

In his column for The Weekend Australian, Peter Lalor said that “soccer is soccer and will
never be football in this country.” Comparing the final moments of
Australia’s victory against Uruguay with a Leo Barry mark in the AFL
grand final, Lalor went on to say: “You would think by the level of
national hysteria that we had won the World Cup, defeated terrorism and
found a cure for bird flu.”

It’s too easy to belittle such an
event with little understanding of the game or the emotional investment
long-suffering fans put into these World Cup qualifiers. And the
argument that not enough goals are scored in the world game to keep it
exciting is as tired as it is old. There are certainly hundreds of
thousands, perhaps millions, of Australians who would say that after
210 minutes of football, “only” two goals, and numerous thrilling
episodes, that they were more than satiated.

Lalor implies that
football will never gain a foothold as long as there are other codes,
football’s “natural predators,” to compete with. This argument was also
taken up by Tim Lane in Saturday’s Age,
who said that Australians only “regularly flock” to sports that we’re
the best in, like Aussie rules, the rugby codes, cricket and
horseracing. Considering our best football players are overseas, Lane
said World Cup qualification wouldn’t necessarily provide football with
the boost it needed to be a major local drawcard.

Wallabies
captain George Gregan said his team was looking for inspiration from
the Australian victory, while AFL boss Andrew Demetriou said he
couldn’t be anything but happy for the team. Why then are sections of
the media already getting defensive and looking to pick through what
could well be a revolution in Australian football?

There’s
plenty of room in Australian sport for a strong local football league,
and the A-League is certainly heading that way with its record crowds.
But there’s no room for an us and them mentality – all codes can live
in harmony.

But football must be doing something right if eminent historian Geoffrey Blainey has to come out in defence of “our own spectacular game” of Australian rules. His article in TheAge
lays out his fears that with good administration, sponsorship dollars
and youth talent, football could one day eclipse Aussie rules.

Who knows, he could be right. Whether we like it or not.