Doha, Qatar – As Australia ready for an intercontinental playoff against Peru back in june, but with a spot 2022 fifa world cup On the line, a column appeared in the national broadsheet The Australian, with a headline patronizing backhanders: “Go Socceroos. But who are these people?”
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Ignoring that its author, as a sports columnist, was already clearly paid to know this, it nevertheless gave voice to mainstream Australia which only once every four years Carefully favors football. There is always a level of genuine affection and excitement with this opportunity to jump back on the bandwagon during these periods, and it is always welcomed by true believers hoping for converts. But there is still a longing for the days when the team had Australia’s ‘Golden Generation’ of talent like Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Tim Cahill.
“If you’re not Australian and you don’t know, football is probably the fourth or fifth sport in Australia after the AFL [Australian rules football], rugby league, rugby union and cricket. Then there’s football. They call it football, but it is football,” Australia coach Graham Arnold said ahead of his side’s 1–0 victory Denmark to set up a round-of-16 clash against Lionel Messi‘s Argentina, “Leaving a legacy is a big thing. And what did that generation do in 2006… the kids who grew up [with that] are these children [playing] in this generation. He was 10 years old, watching these guys in 2006. Those people were his inspiration.”
This nostalgia for 2006 is understandable. Sixteen years ago it felt like football in Australia was on the verge of achieving something special. Its men were plying their trade among the biggest teams in some of world football’s biggest leagues and its national team ended a 34-year hiatus from the world’s biggest sporting event. For a small (population-wise) country that often uses sport as a means of assuring its legitimacy in the international domain, this was a bold new frontier in the planet’s most popular sport.
But it was, for now at least, the pinnacle. Over the next decade and a half, the sport has continued to grow and progress – especially in the women’s game, with the Matildas one of the most beloved sports teams in the country – but the soccer’s trajectory and their name recognition have waned. . The hopes of him coming to Qatar 2022 were mostly underground.
But six months after their identity was questioned, “these guys” have scored more points than Kewell & Co. in just one tournament, in the group stage. Of course, analyzing performance and results are two completely different things, and if you can somehow figure out how to face the 2006 and 2022 sides, you’ll probably take the former. And the contemporary incarnation of soccer cannot be said to have played particularly beautiful football in Qatar or benefited from a fair amount of luck.
But luck favors the bold, and over the past 10 days in Doha, he has also shown that he is not the anonymous pushover many believed. Playing a hard-running and physical brand of football based on effort, determination and playing to the man next to you, Australia were able to produce results greater than the sum of their parts in back-to-back victories. Tunisia and Denmark. Arnold’s “Australian DNA” and pragmatic tactical approach carried the day. They won’t technically beat you, but they will beat you if you let them.
In Australia, fan parks screening live matches in Melbourne’s Federation Square have taken on a cultural significance of their own, and cities and towns across the country are racing to meet the subsequent demand by setting up their own Can stage live sites that can attempt to replicate. Pans of smoke, fire and joy during football games.
In Qatar, where the scenes back home have quickly seized on the scene as a source of inspiration and recognition, the team is a mix of experienced heads – Matthew Leckie And Matthew Ryan Both are set to break the record for most Socceroo appearances against Argentina — and young players such as Riley McGree And harry soutar Joe has been brought in from the U23s as part of a “quick fix” according to Arnold “Major concerns” over Australia’s junior developmental pathway,
Souther, in particular, has served as one of the breakout stars of Australia’s campaign and the £20million valuation placed on him by Stoke City ahead of an ACL injury in November 2021 will almost certainly reflect his exceptional run in Australia. Has returned in view of the efforts. Queue. it will be up to him now, as well Kai Rawls, aziz behich and likely Milos Degenek To keep out one of the best attacks in world football, at the heart of arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen.
Arnold, however, can probably take some solace from the fact that he had previously come away with success against Argentina as both a player and a coach. At last year’s Tokyo Olympics, the 59-year-old was in the dugout as the Oléros beat Argentina 2-0 in their opening group game of the tournament, Lachlan Wells and marco tilio provided a high point for what was soon to prove a disappointing tournament.
As a player, Arnold was involved in a 4–1 victory over Argentina in the Bicentennial Gold Cup in Sydney in July 1988. A 30-metre screamer from Charly Yankos put the Socceroos up 2–1, the game ended unimpressed with the Argentines refusing to shake hands with their opponents at the end of the game and their coach Carlos Bilardo speaking after the match. Failed to attend the news conference. Of course, Argentina would make their comeback five years later after being on the wrong end of a 5–0 defeat at the hands of Australia. Colombia On the last day of South American qualification, they met in a two-legged intercontinental playoff for the right to go to USA ’94.
“I was playing in belgium At that point,” Arnold recalled a few days after Diego Maradona’s death in 2020. “Colombia beat Argentina and Maradona had retired from international football. I think it was going to be Colombia and Argentina out there and we had to play against either/or. I remember, at the time I was watching it in Europe and the TV cameras were rolling on Maradona in the stands, and he was overweight, he had been out for years, he was as heavy as anything. And they were singing his name.
“He came out of retirement and I saw some of the training sessions he was doing in Argentina, some of the weight he lost to come here. In ’94, this was probably the skinniest you ever saw Maradona. And he Came to Australia, coming out of retirement to play against us, what a huge player he was for Argentina.”
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Maradona, out of the woods to save Albiceleste, would set up Argentina’s goal in a 1–1 draw at the Sydney Football Stadium in the first leg of that playoff, and would add to their 1–0 win in Buenos Aires two and a half weeks later, booking their way through to Argentina. Sporting curling locks and a menacing moustache, neither of which he now possesses, Arnold played the full 90 minutes in both of those fixtures, but could not find a way past Sergio Goyocchia in Argentina’s goal.
“In Argentina, he begged and begged the Argentine fans not to boo Australia’s national anthem,” Arnold recalled. “Because in Australia, for the first time, he could hear the Argentine national anthem at an away game, and he requested them not to boo our national anthem. And you can hear our national anthem in Buenos Aires.”
Now, 29 years later, Arnold finds himself in the dugout, and vastly more experienced, coming up against another Argentine legend staging his last stand at the World Cup. After coming up against Maradona on the pitch, a man still heralded as a god in Argentina must now find a way to prevent the second coming.
Arnold said, “It’s strange how similar they are—left-footed, similar style.” “They are both incredible players and to compare different generations, it is all very difficult, but I think, probably, they are two of the greatest players I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
Of course, most eyes on Saturday’s fixture will be directed towards Messi and his quest to add to football’s biggest prize, one of the few that still hasn’t added him to his trophy cabinet. But it takes two to tango, and even though it will mostly come from the brilliance of Argentina’s mirrored hero, soccer will also get its chance to shine. When the full-time whistle blows at the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium, few more people will know who those people are.