Picking through the wreckage of last Friday night’s calamity against Iraq in Bangkok, it was Socceroos captain Mark Viduka who made the most revelatory statement in the endless postmortems that follow such a loss.
“We want to be here,” Viduka said. “We cut short our holidays to play for Australia and we are all trying our hardest.”
See, it seems we should all be grateful he and his pals turned up at all. Viduka and his Euro-star mates could well have chosen to don the budgie smugglers and spend their time sunning themselves around the Mediterranean at this time of the year. You know how it is — if you’re earning a ute full of cash week in week out scoring goals for a team treading water mid-table in the Premier League, you’re entitled to spend it.
Instead they’ve sacrificed all that to head to some steaming flea pit in the third world to play in sweltering conditions against teams full of strangers who would be lucky to get a start at Scunthorpe or, heaven forbid, Leeds.
This Asian Cup caper all seems a bit beneath the Socceroos. They’ve been disinterested, surly, incredulous, sulky and just downright awful from the first kick off. Socceroos coach Graham Arnold said as much when he tore the team a new hole after the Iraq fiasco.
“Looking at that game, some players … they just did not want to be here,” Arnold said. It’s a devastating appraisal of a team he promised would be better for the run against Oman. Arnold admitted that the limited preparation his team had gone through hindered their potency in the first game.
Not against Iraq though; this battle was lost between the ears before the first whistle blew. Suddenly, the dogged determination and self sacrifice that was the hallmark of Germany 2006 for the Socceroos has evaporated in the stifling Bangkok heat. Everyone in a gold shirt was waiting for someone else to take the game by the throat on Friday night.
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This was never more evident than the first goal Iraq scored. Nshat Akram’s long range free kick was innocuous enough, but with Mark Schwarzer rooted to his line he was helplessly embarrassed.
With fifteen minutes of good football after the break, the Socceroos were able to assert themselves and Mark Viduka’s equalizer allowed us to breathe a little easier. Hubris is a dangerous thing, and the way that the Socceroos fell back into their indifferent mindset almost immediately was soul destroying.
Iraq’s second goal was the death knell for Patrick Kisnorbo’s International ambitions, at least for now. The big defender was caught out ball watching, a cardinal sin for a defender at any level. The third Iraqi goal was justice for a team that knows all about the real injustices the world has to offer away from the football pitch.
As for Lucas Neill’s 93rd minute red card that will keep him out of the cut throat tie against Thailand tonight, maybe the World Cup hero of 2006 needs to reacquaint himself with the therapeutic values of a full length mirror.
In fact, if he can find one big enough, he should make sure he invites the rest of the team along as well. The Socceroos take to the park tonight (Aussie time) to confront Thailand in a bid to salvage something, anything from this tournament. Australia needs a win to progress, Thailand will progress with a draw.