Well, the dream is on hold – at least until South Africa 2010 – after Australia’s second-round 0-1 loss to Italy. Australia played well – in my opinion, better than Italy – but didn’t take the opportunities they created, and could have created a lot more than they did. And the last minute penalty to Italy was unfortunate, to say the least.
That said, there were some very real weaknesses in Australia’s game, at least as far as I (someone who, mind, had only watched one full game of soccer before this year’s World Cup) could see. For a start, Australia’s game lacked fluidity. They messed around in the midfield a lot, passing the ball to and fro without going forward. This allowed Italy to flood players into defence. It seems to me that you’re not going to score many goals with 8-9 of the top Italian players in the penalty zone. On the few occasions that Australia did try to move forward quickly the kicks were inaccurate or Australia’s forwards were already well outnumbered. Secondly, when Australia did make a shot it was either wide, high, or straight down the keeper’s throat. The Italian keeper had to do very little to keep Australia scoreless.
Meanwhile, Italy charged forward quickly on their counter-attacks and made it difficult for Mark Schwarzer, who did quite well to keep everything until the penalty out. And there was just about nothing that anyone could have done about that. Lucas Neill was also impressive in defence, and was unlucky to have the penalty called against him in the game’s last seconds. The Wikipedia page on Neill currently points out “In the final minute of the final game on June 26th, a controversial penalty was awarded against Neill, allowing Francesco Totti to score to give the Italians a 1-0 victory, knocking Australia out of the cup. This all being an unlikely, unfortunate decision against one of the most impressive defenders of the tournament.” Precisely how non-partisan the person who posted this was is unclear at the moment. Indeed, I checked the history on the Wikipedia page, the IP address of the person adding the last sentence there was an Aussie (I bet you were surprised by that one!)
Of course, I don’t even qualify to be an armchair expert at this stage.
Soccer is a fascinating game. A few more referees would be nice. Indeed, given the somewhat astounding collection of cards given out by the referee in the Netherlands-Portugal game (almost enough to make up a deck), it may be useful just in controlling the players.
There’s no doubt, there’s already been two winners of this world cup. Australian soccer has just received an enormous boost. To take the attention off the ongoing AFL season (even in Melbourne) and Rugby League (in the middle of the State of Origin series, no less!) for several weeks is an impressive effort. I doubt that the rest of the tournament will be forgotten, either. Plus, $10 million in prize money is always nice.
The other winner is SBS (the government-funded televison station, standing for Special Broadcast Service) – whose purpose is to “to provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia’s multicultural society”. In other words, they show stuff like Inspector Rex (the Austrian crime-solving dog). However, SBS televised the World Cup, largely because none of the other stations realised when such things were being decided that Australia would qualify and that Australians would become obsessed with it. As such, SBS for the last few weeks have been getting higher ratings for showing the world cup games live (in the wee hours of the morning) – the Australia-Italy game started at 1am this morning – then it probably ever achieved in prime time, and indeed being competitive with the major station’s prime-time offerings! The other stations clearly had more important things to televise at that hour.
Actually, they more just contented themselves with their usual bad movies, lawn bowls championships and (during prime-time) farces such as The Footy Show Live From Berlin, where some of their rugby league, rugby and AFL commentators got together for some Lowest Common Denominator “humour” about the world cup. Let’s all just point and laugh. Meanwhile, SBS has been focusing entirely on soccer for – I calculated, in one extreme example, up to 16 hours per day.
SBS also televised the 2005 Ashes test cricket series.