Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Australia is in the world cup - first time in 31 years

What a tense couple of days.
The whole country has been building up to tonight - and what a release of tension when it finally came.

Talk about doing it the hard way though.

First of all we went down 1-0 in the away game in Urugauy - and visions of last time came to mind when we lost there to lose all chances of qualifying.

We knew that if they scored here that we would really be behind the eight ball with away goals counting for two home goals.

The game started fairly nervously with both sides feeling each other out but you could see that there was no rhythm being generated. The huge number of free kicks (I think over 54 for the entire game) in the first 15-20 minutes really stilted the game play. Suddenyl thoug the referee seemed to forget he had a whistle and play started to flow freely with some good forays on both sides and then suddenly there was a yellow card. Popovic had his hand in an attackers face as he tried to go round him. It was a bit soft but fair enough. Strangely Popovic didn't look at all worried as shortly after he was substituted for Kewell. In hindsight one wonders if the whole thing was orchestrated.

Now I will admit to being a critic of Kewell in the past. I thought he was a ball hog and a cry baby, too ready to look for penalties and not tough enough to play the game at this level. Certainly the last few years at an Australian Internation level he didnt appear to meld with the team. Now either he has changed or the team has grown up a bit. I think that the skill levels are more even. He certainly is a very skilful player, but Viduka, Cahill and Emerton are right there with him. Bruschiano was also spectacular.

Anyway within about 2 minutes of Kewell coming on there was a run down the left wing. Kewell backheeled and then darted away inside in line with the top of the 18 yard box. A brilliant pass back to Kewell saw him able to take a shot only for a collective groan as he mis-cued and the ball sliced away across the front of the goal straight to Bruschiano who smacked it in. The groans were replaced with ecstatic yells and we leaped off the couch in delight as the fans and the team went wild with excitement.

The game had to settle down and Australia needed to be very careful. Now they were level but a careless defence mistake could see Uruguay in front and Australia needing two goals to level and 3 to win. Fortunately after half time Uruguay all but lay down and went to sleep. I am sure the boys in green and gold didn't think that but on the TV they looked tired and dispirited. There were a few flashes of energy expecially after a subsititution and a couple of near misses at the end of the second half. 1-0 and the extra time was needed. 30 minutes later we went to a penalty shoot out.

Kewell went first and made no mistake with his shot low and left. The first Uruguyan came out and went to the right but Schwarzer defended brilliant diving left and stopping the goal. For the second time we leapt of the seat yelling excitedly. Next two goals for both teams went in. Viduka stepped to the ball and hestitated before going left so wide that he missed altogether. I am sure that it would have been saved if he hadn't as the keeper had already dived full length that way anyway. Now all the pressure was back on Schwarzer. The anticipation was intense. The striker came in and struck hard and right about 1.5 metres above the ground. Schwarzer antipated well but dived too low. Almost too late he somehow managed to drag his right arm up and twist so that he found the ball with his glove even though it was above him. Again we leapt from the seat and cheered til we were hoarse. Now Aloisi stepped to the ball for Australia. All he had to do was score - and score he did - we had won and the place erupted!

Aloisi ripped off his shirt and sprinted for the sideline - his team mates followed but didn't catch him til the half way line where there was a mass stack! Josh in the lounge room had whipped his shirt off and was spinning it around and around. I don't know what Kamran was doing because I was screaming with delight and laughing at Josh.

What an awesome game - 120 minutes of an awesome display of football. I saw a few tactical errors fron the players, but I would have to say that it was the best technical and skilful game I have ever seen the Australian team play. We have risen to world cup level and are ready to play with the big boys! Having big name players, Kewell, Viduka, Emerton and the like is all very well but if they don't meld into a team filled with players of lesser talent and help the whole team achieve then they are next to useless. I think Kewell has been like that for Australia before - too good and the team didn't meld with him in it. Now they seem to have risen up a level as a team. Credit must go to Guus Hiddink the new coach for this. He has done a great job.

Now to see how they prepare for and perform in the World Cup proper.Can't wait!