Spirit will define their tournament if they stand up to be counted against Spain on Monday after their awesome 3-2 loss to Holland, a nation in the upper echelons of the world game that have remarkably never beaten the Socceroos – these minnows will be among the more memorable elements of Brazil 2014.
And for four minutes in this match they were even in the lead when Mile Jedinak – the only Australian player in any of the top four European leagues – buried a penalty to score the first goal of the second half to go to a 2-1 lead.
The Dutch were shell-shocked going into half-time at 1-1 after a Arjen Robben goal was almost immediately cancelled out by Tim Cahill’s wonder-volley.
Robben’s opener was an old-fashioned break and for once when man-handled by a defending – this time Alex Wilkinson – he didn’t dive theatrically. instead he forged ahead to bury his shot in the bottom right corner.
Within a minute though the Socceroos were level again, after a speculative ball from Matthew Leckie looped and curled to Cahill on the far post and the former Everton man did the best thing possible, buried it off the underside of the crossbar. Whoever said Australia’s only goals could come from Cahill’s head from crosses was maybe justified – that’s where the one in the loss to Chile came from – but wrong. Forget the league he plays in, world class is world class and Australia has one worthy of the title in their side.
Sadly, after copping his second yellow card for the tournament his Cup is over.
His goal though would arguably be in the lead for goal of the tournament so far were it not for the opponent’s striker Robin van Persie nailing that Superman-like header in the Netherland’s 5-1 demolition of the defending champions.
Just as the Aussies did to them, Holland hit back moments after they went behind, this time through van Persie. Then 10 minutes later they were in the lead again through a rather tame strike from range by Memphis Depay, which keeper Mat Ryan would desperately like another go at.
Holland will now top the group if they can get anything out of their final group match against Chile, and avoid Brazil in the round of 16.
Now Australia have only pride to play for, but those with realism in their blood know that’s really all that’s ever been the case.
When players come from Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich and then some as the Dutch do come up against a veteran in the MLS as the lynchpin and the best performer in Germany’s second tier (Leckie), along with a couple of blokes playing in League One, it’s not a coincidence when they lose. How they’ve lost though has been with pluck and well-deserving of admiration.
Their next opponent is Spain, who if they lose to Chile will also be playing for pride – though if that’s the case when they line up that will be long gone. The Aussies, with their bank balances many millions shy of the defending champions, will be back to deliver the same again.
Ange Postecoglou was missing defenders Ivan Franjic and Mark Milligan, who started against Chile, but they were all better off for that hit-out and those who came in delivered.
Where they gifted a couple of goals and were on the backfoot from the outset in the opener against Chile, they were composed and as organised as could be expected against the Dutch.
The Netherlands, on paper, should have pulled the Aussies’ pants down and given them a right-royal spanking, but instead they got a wake-up call.
The ‘Roos even had chances. Mark Bresciano, the other older statesmen, will be kicking himself for blasting over the bar when a smart Leckie cross found him more or less clear in the penalty area.
Matthew Spiranovic also would have hoped to get more on a volley that somehow landed for him off a well-worked free kick.
But it wasn’t to be.
Algerian referee Djamel Hammoudi let the game flow, much to the benefit of the physical Aussies, and added to the spectacle. Far from sitting back and hoping for a break, Postecoglou’s side pressed and unsettled the classy opposition. It was admirable, entertaining and bodes brilliantly well for the upcoming Asian Cup to be hosted in Australia.
Football plays third or fourth fiddle to other codes in Oz, but the Socceroos have flown the flag the best they could have.
A final word for Cahill though. He IS Australia’s greatest Socceroo having scored in three World Cups and always performed in gold, whether as a Premier League player or in the far less regarded American competition.
His cracking goal is a great way for him to bow out, even if he’ll be gutted to be on the sideline for the last hurrah of the tournament.
While his side lacked the class at the back to get a draw, with diabolical marking leading Van Persie to find the net for his third time in Brazil, he didn’t.
And he matched his younger team-mates’ enthusiasm too, probably his downfall with an overzealous challenge earning his a place in the book. More than anything his public optimism about his team as been unwavering. Whether he meant it or not, who cares, his team-mates listened and played like they believed it. And there can be no greater compliment than that.
Images via Getty