If you happened to sleep through last night’s World Cup action, we have good news and bad news.

The bad news is that Australia is out of the World Cup finals, beaten 1-0 by Italy in their cut-throat Round of 16 match.

The good news is that we weren’t actually beaten, so we can loudly proclaim to be “tournament underdogs cruelly cut down by yet another dodgy referee’s decision that led to an unjust but decisive penalty”. Having played heroically to dominate a 0-0 game, Australia’s players watched in horror as Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo pointed to the spot after Italian Fabio Grosso launched himself over the already prone body of Lucas Neill in the penalty area. This happened with 12 seconds of injury time left, meaning Francesco Totti’s subsequent penalty goal in the 95th minute was the last kick of the game.

The good news is that Australia had played well in such a huge match, controlling much of the game against a three-time World Cup winner now ranked 13th in the world. Our team was undaunted and unbeaten right up until that fateful whistle, even if we didn’t often look like seriously threatening the Italian defence. Despite being victimised at the end, Neill was fantastic yet again and Mark Schwarzer, back in goal after being so strangely overlooked for the Croatian game, played brilliantly, saving at least one certain goal with his feet among other efforts.

The bad news is that star player Harry Kewell’s injury woes had resurfaced to the point that he didn’t make it onto the park, instead hobbling around on crutches, when his spark might have been all Australia needed to actually score a goal, rather than simply dominate. One report suggested Kewell had been secretly suffering from gout in his foot, not a recurrence of his groin ailment.

Coach Guus Hiddink also only used the bench once, when fresh legs might have helped as Australia enjoyed an 11 versus 10 man advantage from the 50th minute (when Italy’s Marco Matterazzi was unfairly red carded). Strangely, the Australians did not run hard, wide on the flanks, to push the Italian 10 as much as they might have, and they looked a little short in attack with Tim Cahill trying to head every corner. Lanky Josh Kennedy might have been a useful addition there.

Then again, what do we know? A month ago, like many Australians, we’d barely watched more than a handful of soccer matches. Today we’re drastically low on sleep,
gutted by one bad ref’s call, and wondering how we’re going to wait four years for the next party.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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