Australia is paying a
heavy price for its style of play at this World Cup. The most frustrating
thing, however, is that it’s not our current style of play for which we’re
being penalised.

Over the years, Australian teams have enjoyed a (mostly deserved)
reputation
for playing a brand of football that supporters euphemistically
describe as “uncompromising” or “physical” and which opponents have
usually tagged “dirty”.
This football has often been unscientific and unsophisticated.

That is not the style of game we’re playing under Mr Hiddink. But opposition
teams have played on the old stereotypes as part of their mind games in our two
World Cup matches thus far – and the referees have fallen for it.

Before the Japan game, some
of the Japanese players made pointed remarks about the dirty style of game we
allegedly play. To help confirm this view, their players tended to fall over
whenever a strong gust of wind – let alone a Socceroo opponent – got near them.
The ref duly obliged by paying a stream of soft free kicks.

But German referee Markus Merk really took the strudel. Time after time, the
merest contact from a Socceroo player would bring a free kick. But the same
standards didn’t even go close to applying when physical contact was applied to
us.

The only positive out of this saga was, once again, hearing a football arena
echoing to the very Australian chants of “bullsh-t … bullsh-t” and the ironic
cheers that would go up on the rare occasions that a free kick was called in
the Socceroos’ favour.

But if the current trend continues it’s going to be a potentially significant
problem in our crunch match against Croatia tomorrow.
Watch for the Croatian camp to start making noises about our physical style.
Maybe we need to get in first with a pre-emptive strike about the way the
referees have been duped into believing we’re still playing as we did back in
the 1980s. Or, perhaps even more radically, maybe the referees should just call
the game as they see it.

Peter Fray

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