It’s 2am and Stuttgart’s main square is jammed with Aussie flags

Friday, 23 June, 2006

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.

Peter Fray

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