Crikey’s marketing guru John Addis reports from a tram in Stuttgart:


Just
two hours after the end of what was one of the best matches I’ve seen
(and I’ve seen a fair few), it’s hard to believe this was just a game
of football. Schlossplatz is teeming with blokes in kangaroo and koala
suits, strangers are still kissing and embracing each other, while
hordes of heavily armed police wait in the alleyways trying, and
failing, to look innocuous.

Half an hour after the final whistle,
hardly a single Aussie supporter had left the ground, preferring to
sing along to AC/DC and Men at Work and marvel at the beauty and
tension of the contest. Even the Croats stayed, sensing that they were
witness to what will probably be remembered as one of the games of the
tournament.

Then the Australian players emerged for what will be described as a lap
of honour, although one sensed they just wanted to join the party. Only
Zelko Kalac looked anything less than jubilant – and with good reason.
The German on the PA thanked everyone “for the great atmosphere” in a
typically German way and the huge display flashed up the word
GOODNIGHT. But no-one budged an inch; we weren’t going anywhere until
the lights were turned off.

The
bloke I saw the game with, a long-standing, loyal “soccer” supporter,
was at once laughing and crying. So was I. Only a low scoring game like
football can produce such drama and excitement. Australia dominated in
the first half but the scores were only tied at half time. Although the
team looked like they could secure the point that they needed, I’m not
sure that the crowd truly believed.

In fact, the humorous
chants of “Your shirts look like a tablecloth” that preceded the game
seemed to suggest that few people thought Australia could compete with
a team that had reached the semis just eight years ago. But in all the
things that Hiddink has done, the development of the sense of self
belief is perhaps the greatest. This is a team that doesn’t know how to
lose, even if the supporters are only beginning to realise that.

But
now that they had progressed, the surprise, relief and joy swept around
the ground. Everyone I spoke to had never seen, heard or felt anything
quite like it. There’s something very special about 25,000 people all
feeling exactly the same way and wanting to show it in such a vocal,
disorderly manner.

The Croats, naturally, are crestfallen. But
apart from the bloke who kept smashing the roof in our tram, they’re
humble too. Most would admit they didn’t deserve to progress. Australia
were denied two good penalty shots, and the Croatian player who
received two yellow cards remained, incredibly, on the pitch.

It’s
2am now. The Croats are still singing and the main square is jammed
with Australian flags and inflatable kangaroos, and the mobile jazz band
that’s been following the team around is in full swing. It’s going to
be a long, happy night for the Aussies and a very busy morning for the
good people of Stuttgart.

PICTURE: Supporters of the Australian national soccer team pose
before the start of the Croatia v Australia Group F soccer match at the World
Cup Gottlieb-Daimler stadium in Stuttgart, Germany, Thursday, June 22, 2006. The
other teams in Group F are Brazil and Japan. (AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle)

Peter Fray

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