Almanac Olympics – Soccer: Shades of ’82: cynicism and the world game


Last night’s coach-inspired cynicism by Tony Gustavsson that enabled the Matildas to bore out a draw with the United States at the Olympic Games in Tokyo should be called out for what it was: ‘A crime against football’. It brought back memories of the World Cup in 1982 when a wonderful Algerian team that had beaten West Germany in its group match was then prevented from qualifying for the knock-out rounds. The defeated Germans conspired with Austria to play out a draw to ensure that Algeria could not progress. Later in the tournament the French goalkeeper was poleaxed by the German striker, who remained on the field despite his brutal act. West Germany went on to the final, where it was defeated by Italy.


Last night, after a first half in which young Mary Fowler hit the crossbar with a header and the United States had a goal chalked off for offside thanks to the assistant referee and VAR, the second was an exercise in time-wasting to ensure that both teams qualified for the quarterfinals. For most of the period the Americans sat back in their own half, with occasional forays to keep the Australian back line on their toes, but the Matildas made little to no attempt put them under any pressure. Some people will argue that the end justified the means, but if sport is reduced to exercises in cynicism, then it will cease to be sport.


Channel Seven was boasting about the viewing figures for Australia’s opening game against Sweden—a high-quality competitive affair that ended in defeat, but in which the Matildas could have won had Sam Kerr’s penalty kick not been saved by the Swedish keeper. She dived the wrong way but blocked the shot with her legs and no one followed up quickly enough to put away the rebound. Last night’s debacle will have done nothing to promote the game.


Australia will now meet Great Britain in the quarterfinals, a game that should be hugely attractive as both sides will have W-League stars in their ranks, while many of the Australians are playing with English Premier League clubs. Sam Kerr turned out for Chelsea and won the Golden Boot in the season just concluded, and no doubt will be very closely marked. Kim Little has been playing in the W-League, so the clash between these two will be worth watching if people can forget last night’s horror show.


There were a couple of redeeming features last night in the performances – the two youngsters in the Australian line-up. Mary Fowler is still only 18, but she showed glimpses of the ability in the air and on the ground that suggests she will have a long and distinguished future in the game. Kylie Cooney-Cross, who scored the injury time winner direct from a corner-kick to hand Melbourne City the W-League Championship, showed she can cut it at top level too. I hope they will not be held back by coaches who show such disrespect for the beautiful game.



You can read more by Roy Hay HERE.



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