World Cup 2014 – Australia v Netherlands: You Idiots in Your Beds

This article was originally published on Tony’s blog (tonywilson.com.au) and then published at The Footy Almanac, 20 June 2014.

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I arrived in Bridge Road at 1.40 this morning, and scored that impossible park right opposite the Town Hall that’s only ever going to happen during the magic of a World Cup.

Our destination was the The Sporting Globe, formerly Spargo’s, and when I made my way upstairs into the sweating, drinking throng, I met a bloke called Andrew, who told me he used to occasionally bring dates here. We both glanced at the big TVs and the heaving maleness of the room. It was perfect sports bar territory – froth and fries. ‘Lucky girls,’ I said to Andrew.

Tonight, though, we all had a date with destiny. Australia versus the Netherlands. The World Cup’s lowest ranked team, us, against the first round’s star attraction, them.

I gave us no chance.

Even allowing for a Dutch letdown (sounds like something that happens under a doona), or the faint hope that a googling Robin Van Persie spent four sleepless days image searching for versions of himself in Superman capes, this just couldn’t happen. In terms of star power, the Socceroos boasted an aging Tim Cahill, plying his trade in the American MLS, and the man our Prime Minister knows as ‘Mike’ Jedinak, the captain of the English Premier League’s eleventh best side.

The Dutch had the highest paid footballer on Earth in Robin van Persie. They had last year’s UEFA Champions League final Man of the Match, Arjen Robben. They had Wesley Sneijder, who was once rated in the best three best midfielders in the world; de Jong from Italian Serie A; de Gusman and Vlaar from the English Premier League. On the bench sat Dirk Kuyt, who earns 2.85 million euros a year playing in Turkey, a salary that would cover the combined payroll for all seven A-League Socceroos in our squad.

It was surely an impossible mismatch. Maybe we could get some bodies back? Maybe we could park that embarrassing ‘Hopping into History’ team bus somewhere near Matty Ryan’s goal?  Maybe the Dutch would squander chance after chance and gift us a nil-all? Maybe they’d all still be hungover from the Spain after-match?

Hoping into history, that was our chance. Thin, wispy, impossible hopes that would surely float away with the first Van Persie strike.
Except they didn’t. We dominated possession over the opening twenty minutes. Nor were the Dutch just ceding it to Australia. We were running harder, we were more desperate with our tackling, and were sound with our ball retention. I hit Twitter, nervously celebrating this team cohesion, this Postecoglue that had bound the team together.

And it was beautiful. We were playing lovely football. ‘Jogo Bonito’ from the team in yellow. ‘Jogo bonito’ from another team in yellow. The Dutch were either sitting back, or just couldn’t get the ball. I was delirious.

Then Robben scored. It was like fluorescent lights being turned on at a kick-arse party. The noise drained from the room. That was it. The Socceroos had come out with such verve, such tempo, but surely this goal had flattened them. I looked for my brother Ned, only to discover that he was on the stairs, negotiating with a bouncer to let his friend, Chris, in. The bloke next to me shared a knowing grimace. Robben, hey? World class player. Quality finish. Not bad for a guy who looks fifty-five.

And then it happened. A speculative, lobbing cross from Ryan McGowan, one that cricket commentators might say was in ‘good areas’ but, as it descended from the skies, was a longshot at best. But it was the right man’s long shot. Tim Cahill, who wet the head of a new football nation in Kaiserslautern. Tim Cahill, who has defied age and gravity time and again to become the nation’s greatest goalscorer, and, with his Brazilian heroics, its greatest player too. Tim Cahill, who eyed the ball as it descended over his shoulder, and with perfect balance and technique …

Oh my fucking god. Delirium descended on The Sporting Globe, as it would the sporting globe in its wider sense. Gary Linekar called it ‘a stonker’. Phillip Neville said it was better than Van Persie’s wonder. Piers Morgan called it ‘the best world Cup goal of all time’ and even though Piers Morgan’s a Grade A dickhead, I have to admit he does watch a lot of football. Again I looked for Ned, for these were hugging times. He would relay later that this was the height of his fruitless negotiation with the bouncer: ‘But surely if those four have come out … two can go in?’  He and Chris saw the goal, but in the icier atmosphere of the stairwell.

We only got better. We started bossing the Dutch. The more promising passages belonged to us. For a second, The Sporting Globe’s TV connection wobbled out of place and we lost vision. It was not a good second for the bar staff. It was quite a scary second for the bar staff.

At half time, Ned and Chris finally talked their way into The Sporting Globe’s pumping aorta. ‘The Dutch are playing us on the rebound,’ Ned laughed. And, then, with the sentence that was being nervously tried out across the country. ‘We can get a point here.’

At the restart, the team lost none of its zing. The obligatory beer tossingly, heart racingly, ball-in-the-back-of-the-net, disallowed goal belonged to us. Leckie had interfered. The more sober of us had our hands behind our necks, grimacing, it was clear that he had. The drunker ones in the room were climbing the walls, trying to get at the referee. We attacked again, missed again. Foz was beginning to lose it. We were all beginning to lose it.

Bresciano was subbed. Postecoglou would later say it was a necessity, not a choice. Bresh played a magnificent fifty minutes, choosing wonderful options, beating defenders as if he was the Bajern Munich baldie on the pitch. In his place emerged Oli Bozani?, who immediately showed the sort of pace, skill and bravado that had us believing him to be a worthy Bresciano substitute, maybe  in the more permanent sense, when this last remnant of the golden  generation is no more.

It was Bozani?’s enterprising first run that won the penalty. It was Jedinak who stood up. ‘Everyone will want to be like Mike’ I joked to Ned. We grabbed shirts and forearms, preparing for the maelstrom, hoping against hope that the gust was coming.

Twitter went mad with us. It was up there with Kaiserslautern, when Ned and I were in the stadium. If we won this, it would be better than Kaiserlautern. To think Dad was there in Brazil. To think he’d only decided to go eight days ago.

We drank the elixir of hope for four glorious minutes, and then it was over. A very good team did what very good teams do. Van Persie was set up perfectly for the equaliser and Van Persie delivered. In the A-League, sometimes those shots slide wide, or are hit straight at the keeper, but the Manchester United front man was never going to miss. Ten minutes later, when Matt Ryan failed to get across to Memphis  Depay’s long ranger, we all knew the script.

Even in those difficult last minutes, the players busted guts. Faraway fans in a pub in Richmond were trying hard too, attempting to get chants started, but we were exhausted. From Brazil to Bridge Road we were all totally and utterly exhausted. The final whistle went and with it, all hope. The impossible maybe was just a little bit impossible after all. The Miracle on Grass had fallen half an hour short.

I sat in the car afterwards, contemplating the latest historic chapter in these adrenaline charged fifteen years of following the Socceroos. Already, the post-mortems were flooding in. Of course Ange and the boys would say they expected to win. Teams should expect to win. Of course commentators would say we were brave. We were incredibly brave. And of course knockers would say that being brave and not winning is not enough. That we have to raise the bar in this country. That we have to believe in ourselves. That one day the miracle won’t be a miracle because we’ll expect it, demand it.

And maybe one day that will be the case.

But today isn’t that day. Today, Alex Wilkinson was man-marking Robin Van Persie. Today, the Socceroos were brave and wonderful and brought light to the tournament. It’s a day of celebration. I don’t care that we lost.

At the time of the World Cup draw, we all thought there were three great teams in the group. It turns out there were four.

Well done Ange Postecoglou. It’s a coaching achievement of the highest order. Well done Socceroos, for doing your very best. Well done Timmy. for providing a crowning moment on a career for the ages. Why did you have to get that senseless yellow card against Chile? Why do you always get those senseless fucking yellow cards for dissent.

Afterwards, I sat in the car for such a long time, not wanting to go home. Because that’s the thing with World Cups. Nobody ever wants to go home.

This article was originally published on Tony’s blog (tonywilson.com.au) where copies of Tony’s many books are available. [I especially liked “Players” – JTH]

About Tony Wilson

Tony Wilson wore number 47 for Hawthorn. So did Dermott Brereton.

Comments

  1. …I’ve absorbed just about all there’s been to read on this game – none sums it up better than this.

  2. Brilliant Tony. Brilliant Socceroos.
    Shandy the Wonder Dog looks at me funny when I start doing laps of the coffee table with my dressing gown pulled over my head and screaming at the TV at 2 in the morning. Father/son bonding.

  3. Superb fan writing – the best is not just about the beers and the bear hugs, it must show an appreciation and understanding of the game and the moment. This does all.

    Congrats Tinsel – you are one of the best.

    JTH

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Brilliant Tony.
    Like Cahill’s goal this will be in the folklore of Australian sports writing. What a ride!

  5. Gregor Lewis says

    I was gonna say ‘i wish I was there’.
    But after reading this, I realised ‘there’ is exactly where you took me.
    Best read I’ve had of our Brazilian 2014 journey.
    Great writing Tony!
    Magnificent translation of what Australian Football tragics feel, especially this generation who have finally got to live it, through our own boys’ performances, instead of having to adopt those belonging to others.

    These boys have belonged to us … And Tony, you told us how … In the best way possible – an experience shared is a memory worth treasuring.

    grl

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