UPHILL battle is what the game’s experts are predicting for Australia.
We pride ourselves on a culture for loving a good underdog and our Socceroos can step out on the pitch with pride, knowing the whole nation is behind their FIFA World Cup campaign. Many of us non-round ball regulars even seem to morph into armchair experts on what Socceroos’ coach Bert van Marwijk needs to tweak during and between matches.
But there is a real magical element about World Cup soccer, when even the seemingly unlikely feels possible. This has started already with the call-up of Melbourne City teenager Daniel Arzani, who had not even started an A-League game just months ago.
Juniors across Ballarat might be spouting world leader names like Ronaldo or Messi – guys who need no first name introduction – but they will also be keenly watching stories like Arzani.
Arzani’s story makes the world stage seem more tangible and encourage juniors to aim high and work hard in whatever they do.
World Cup fever is infectious.
Australian Sports Commission data shows more than 1.1 million Australians already playing club soccer, making it the number one club sport for both adults and children. Almost 20 per cent of Australian children aged 5-14 play organised soccer out of school hours.
This is tipped to boom.
Ballarat junior soccer coach LeRoy Hand has teams of passionate juniors but says told The Courier the World Cup effect was particularly noticeable in schoolyards where most other lunchtime sport “seems to disappear”. Hand said the media attention, scale of the tournament and biggest names in the world’s game, coupled with free-to-air live action made even the casual passerby take interest.
Our Socceroos have only made it past the group stage once in four World Cup appearances. That one-nil loss to Italy, who went on to be champions, in the round of 16 at Germany 2006 reinforced a belief we can mix it with the world’s best.
Our Socceroos are not just there to make up numbers.
Soccer powerhouses Italy, the Netherlands and United States of America failed to qualify.
Our first assignment is against one of the game’s traditional powerhouses, France, on Saturday night. Les Bleus are realistically a World Cup winning favourite, boasting intimidatingly slick kits to boot.
This is an incredible challenge and chance to show what Australian sporting spirit is all about.
And we are chasing history.
Should evergreen Socceroo Tim Cahill score a goal this tournament, the 38-year-old will join the legendary Pele and Germans Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose as the fourth player in history to have found the net at four World Cups. Portugal great Cristiano Ronaldo and Mexico's Rafa Marquez are chasing the same feat.
"To even be mentioned with those greats as an Australian is insane," Cahill told Optus Sport.
What might sound “insane” shows just how much the game brings the whole world together with a round ball. This is anyone’s game.
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