In Australia’s young footballing history, tonight marks the biggest game in its history – will it be a coming of age, or the beginning of a long struggle?
Australian football faces a fork in the road at 4:30 AM Sunday 13th June Australian Eastern Standard Time. Still riding the wave from the fairytale-like qualification in 2006 and then the outstanding cup campaign in Germany, football has pushed itself to the forefront of the national sporting psyche. Australia now has 4 footballing codes – and “soccer” isn’t the smallest of them. But 2010 could spell the end of all that…
Think you’re reading a football blog? Think again. This is relationships 101 (don’t click away just yet…) Australian football is ending the “romance” phase. The long soppy sms messages are all but non existent. The candlelit dinners and hour long phone calls are all things of the past. Frank Lowy and his magnificent wonderland that he has dreamt for Australian football is about to come under fire from every which direction. That is, if we fail in South Africa.
There are 2 overarching factors in our relationship model:
- The performance of the Socceroos in the 2010 World Cup
- Australia’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup
If the Socceroos finish bottom of the group, it could spell the end of affection the Australian people have developed for the round ball. After all, Australians are winners and demand the highest quality in their sporting representatives. Another round of 16 appearance will extend the love affair for at least another 4 years. Australian football doesn’t have the archaic history that the rival codes of Rugby League, AFL, Rugby Union and Cricket possess. For the next 20 years or so, general interest and support will correlate with world cup qualification and then world cup success. The average Aussie appreciates the national side’s reputation as physical and difficult to break down, but in the end, they’ll run away from the sport and their A-League representatives if they aren’t given success on the biggest stage. After 2006, the affinity just about reached fever pitch. Recapturing such highs will almost certainly never be achieved, but a similar performance is crucial to continuity moving forward.
A key to Lowy’s blueprint is hosting the World Cup. Undoubtedly, if Australia are granted hosting rights, it will ensure the success of the A-League and the popularity of football in general terms for the next 15 years; at least. A nation that hosts the World Cup just about engenders upon themself a life long commitment to the game. If we get the vote, the hard slog after the “romance phase” will just about be side stepped in favour of rampant infrastructure development, financial stimulus and genuine national sentiment leaning towards the beautiful game, as was seen during the 2000 Olympics.
So, on the eve of the Socceroos’ opening match agains ze Germans, there is a strange calm amongst the people. Expectations are at all time highs – eager for a result against the fancied opposition. For Lucas Neill and Pim Verbeek, this campaign has an impact that will last far beyond their years of involvement (particularly for Verbeek who packs his bags in a few weeks). Success will earn them more than just 3 points – it’ll earn the Australian public a new national sport.