Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beyond Nelspruit

Well the consensus around here is that changing the Prime Minister was an overreaction to the Socceroos failing to get through the group stage. Craig Foster and Jesse Fink are both convinced, for somewhat different reasons, that Australia 'failed' at this World Cup, and I think they do us a disservice with this view.

Firstly it is worth reiterating that on paper Australia's team is pretty crap. Our best outfield player, Timmy Cahill, plays for Everton. We have not one player that has played Champions League football. Not one. [Ed: Thanks to Jesse Fink (below in comments) for the correction - Brett Holman has played Champions League football.] Some teams, like Italy (oh dear), are stacked with them. Timmy and Mark Schwarzer are probably the only players in our team that would make the English team. So coaching them to a World Cup is a serious professional challenge for a coach, and anything they achieve is impressive.

There is no adequate apology for the game against Germany. Coach Pim took a large risk in essentially throwing the game and hoping to keep Germany's goal count down (ouch), and it was a stuff up. But Germany played sublimely and we lost our star to an unreasonable red card, making a bad situation worse.

As the group games unfolded it became clear that the African teams were not going to do well overall, and Ghana began to be called the continent's 'last hope'. This narrative went on with great consternation, even a sort of fear. Germany would clearly win our group but there was actual concern that Australia might pip Ghana. In itself this is pretty disgusting anyway, as I always thought we were to have a fair competition and that the idea was that the best team would win.

And Ghana really didn't show any class against Australia, even though we again went down early to another red card, and hence had neither of our best players on the field. We should give our 10 men credit for the point they held in that game, but really, Ghana did not look up to it at all. The media we get here (we don't get SBS or any Australian media) looked frankly uncomfortable.

I am not saying that there was any deliberate, conscious bias from referees, but the pressure was certainly on. Errors were going to go in favour of the 'desired outcome'. In that last game against Serbia, where Australia, still unable to field its best team, showed its spirit and quality, virtually every decision for the first four fifths of the match (before it was too late) went against us. Now I am a patriot and I am familiar with the bias of patriots, so to be sure about this I will have to study the game some time and do a careful count of incidents and decisions. But this was truly my impression, over and over and over again.

There was five minutes of hope, when we were 2:0 up and we heard that Germany was beating Ghana 1:0. Another goal for Australia and Germany respectively, and we were through. That's how close we were. But Germany had set up camp, content, in their half of the field, and our ref, as far as I'm concerned, did everything in his power to make sure we did not get any more goals.

And the Socceroos were brilliant in spirit, even as their journey ended. After the match they spent a long time tributing the fans, kicking balls into the crowd, signing things etc, even as they were clearly emotionally finished. Lucas Neils' tears said everything. Congratulations lads. That was no failure. That was a victory of a team who nobody in the World believed in except for Australian fans (the Australian media didn't). My love for you has only increased, and I am proud to be associated with you.

If anyone wants to read an excellent, informed post-mortem of the Socceroos campaign, I honestly suggest you bypass the mainstream media altogether and read Tony Tannous's. There's no big anti-media agenda in this recommendation, and he doesn't really even reflect my own views - it's just the best article I've found, and he's much more likely to be right than me.

Quite aside from the game, it was a brilliant day in Nelspruit. For once, more by good fortune than design I'm afraid, we got to the game with plenty of time to occupy a pub. It is a great pub in Nelspruit, and we packed every corner and spilled onto the street. Note to Total Sports Travel, and any other tour company: Soccer fans don't just want to get to the game on time for
kickoff; we actually want to have a good time - ie. It is absolutely essential to occupy a pub before a game.

Oh yes, let me tell you about transport to the Nelspruit stadium. Our bus parks near the pub, which is fine because we had heaps of time, but it can't go to the stadium. To get to the stadium, we have to catch a mini-bus which goes to a park n' ride area, where we get on a big bus to the stadium. It's hard to imagine, perhaps, how inefficient this is in practice. After the game, to get the 40,000 odd people back into town, the reverse occurred. We stood in a mass, coralled by fences, as about 60 people at a time were taken off in busses, to then again find mini-busses. There was no coordination of this and it seemed a minor miracle that we all managed to get back to our original bus. Mind you it took hours.

Anyway, for anyone who has been frequenting this site, I'm really sorry I haven't blogged for days. The day in Nelspruit I could feel myself holding back a flu, and the next day it hit me with full force. I also got a bit homesick and miserable, missing my shop and my beautiful fiance, and the conditions at the Total Sports Soccer Village didn't help. Alongside unreliable internet and the worst conditions for writing possible, these are my excuses. Truly I apologise.

I guess a new phase of this trip had started too. The patriotic part of the trip has finished, with the knocking out of Australia, and now it's just about enjoying beautiful football. I've bought an Argentina scarf as Maradona, tool that he is, has completely won me over with his cool and class. He operates completely out of the box and, for my money, the box sucks. Jacob and I are seeing Argentina play Mexico tonight at Soccer City.

Then tomorrow we are off to Durban for 10 days in a decent B&B. There I hope to relax a bit, get some writing done, and see the semi-final on the 7th (maybe Argentina v Spain). I can't wait for a good bed, hot showers and internet access.



Blogger Seamus said...

yep ...I'm going to become an Argentine fan ...just reckon that conspicuous recklessness should have its own rewards!

June 28, 2010 8:03 am  
Anonymous Ed said...

As far as I'm concerned the red cards are just excuses for poor performance, the tactics where to blame (4-0??!); Rudd had to go.

June 28, 2010 2:12 pm  
Anonymous Pete the pom said...

Even as a pom in OZ with a long standing hatred of the Argentine team and Maradona, his passion as a coach has won me over to them with their individual skills coming second. I dream of OZ having a coach with such passion and can only think another cool foreigner will be a disaster. Having survived the 2010 Total Sports Gulag myself I’m surprised you’ve managed to stick it this long.

June 29, 2010 8:36 pm  
Blogger Jesse Fink said...

Brett Holman played Champions League football, Hamish.

June 29, 2010 9:00 pm  
Blogger Hamish said...

Thanks for the comments people, and especially for the correction Jesse.

June 29, 2010 9:17 pm  

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