Oh-man, 2-2, now it’s exciting

Australia 2 – Oman 2

Four years ago, the first time through Asia, Australia qualified for the World Cup and it was a snooze. The opposition were in such fear that they meekly sat back, allowing coach Pim Verbeek to take few risks, preferring to rely on a banal strategy of using the inevitable opportunism of chances for the team to capitalise. The team rarely created their own chances by cutting down the opposition. While it wasn’t pretty, it worked. It also had repercussions. A team without the hard graft that the move to Asia was supposed to create was readily exposed at the World Cup.

In 2012, Australia is not having it as easy, and blindly fans and commentators alike work themselves into a lather about “performance” and decrees of “we must win” and “if we can’t beat Oman we don’t deserve to be in the World Cup”, and predicting 3-0 victories. Even coach Holger Osieck said in the lead-up that this match against Oman was a final. One look at the points table would have seen that an utter nonsense. Presuming Japan beat Jordan in the other match, a draw against Oman would not change a thing. Post-match, upon seeing the points table, Osieck even made this salient point.

As a nation, Australians can be so precious, bordering on conceited. This translates into a culture of bullying opposition and expecting automatic success. First it was just long-established surly cricket team, then swimming and other Olympians, and now it’s bleeding into our once humble football team. Australia wanted out of Oceania for some “competition” and “insurance” in Asia. It comes, and we still complain. For some reason Australia must be playing a fluid passing game of 98% completion, win at least 2-0 and deny the opposition a shot on goal. That’s not football. Not even in a videogame.

It’s time to get real and stop whingeing when the vagaries that we appreciate so much about the sport actually dish up one of those vagaries in our faces. Oman scored fairly and nicely after six minutes, and suddenly something is really wrong. No it isn’t. That’s the sport. Just as one of its priceless vagaries dished up the delicious equaliser by the consistently error-prone Brett Holman. While we should be regaling in the team’s ability to rescue a perilous situation and salivating at the moderate challenge ahead, we just whinge.

Yes, a moderate challenge it still is for Australia. Even with Jordan later beating Japan in the other match, they are 1 point above Australia, Australia have a game in hand of their nearest opponents, two of those games at home, one against Jordan in Melbourne. Don’t fret or whinge. Enjoy.

The match itself proved the most exciting of the campaign, thanks to the vagaries of the sport. Conceding a goal so early would knock most teams off their game. While Australia did look lacklustre at times, generally they kept it relatively tidy, created chances, and all being mindful of the danger of conceding another goal. When the unlucky own-goal was conceded at the start of the second half to make it 2-0, tremendous resilience was shown to save the game. First Tim Cahill with a trademark and timely header from a corner to quickly make it 2-1, and then Holman’s 85th minute long strike through a box so crowded that it might have temporarily blinded Oman’s goal-keeper from making an early lunge. The players just didn’t give up – as is also a consistent Australian trait. It’s when as favourites that things go awry. The warm and humid conditions also made it tough for several of the players coming from the cold northern winter, further validating the effort.

Even Osieck seemed affected mentally by the conditions, substituting Robbie Kruse early, when Kruse was the team’s most dangerous player, and currently playing the team’s highest level club football. Also puzzling is Osieck’s persistence with Cahill as striker when logic suggests Kruse should be there with Cahill in his customary deeper, lurking mid-field role. Not only is Cahill’s strike-rate far diminished up front, it propels the team into the lower percentage and annoying early long ball game. With Australia stuttering in midfield, an idea instead of substituting Kruse would be to push him forward, drop Cahill to midfield then substitute Alex Brosque for Archie Thompson.

Again, Australians under-estimate the toughness and pressure of World Cup qualifiers. Maybe the time in Oceania insulated the public from seeing this through the haze and nerves of the “Cup final” play-offs that Australia had to endure. Or more likely, with the the success in 2006 and the ease of qualifying in 2010, fans are looking too far ahead and treating the qualifiers as an indication to potential performance at the finals themselves. That is wrong. We are not that country yet and need to take a step back to tough and uncompromising reality that is to just qualify for the World Cup. It’s nothing short than we asked upon entering Asia. Maybe, with the team in a transitional phase and the younger players failing to step up and fill the void, it’s happening sooner than we like. That’s just another of those vagaries of football.

Points & GD
Japan 13, +10
Jordan 7, -6
Australia 6, 0
Oman 6, -3
Iraq 5, -1

04/06 Jap v Aus; Oma v Irq
11/06 Aus v Jor; Irq v Jap
18/06 Aus v Iraq; Jor v Oma

A draw and two wins guarantee Australia. Beating both Jordan and Iraq is enough if Oman don’t win both their games. Otherwise it’s goal difference. A draw with Jordan and a win and a draw elsewhere is almost certainly enough. Beating Jordan and drawing with Iraq possibly enough (depends on Oman). These equations only matter to finish second. Remember, third place goes through the play-offs. Just another timely vagary to keep us excited.

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Media bias against football? Gee we’re a precious bunch

Australia produces a rubbish World Cup bid, Melbourne Heart fans destroy 170 seats at Docklands Stadium, flares are constantly lit at A-League grounds: guess the problem? The media! Time and time again when reading football blogs and feedback, this constant theme arises. There’s even calls for the media to “educate” talkback radio callers. It’s nonsense. The big problem with media bias is that those claiming media bias are actually the most biased people themselves. Politics is the worst example. Football is not far behind. Those events described at the top, they all happened. The reporting is not a fabrication. They happened. Yet, suddenly that’s media bias.

Looking at those events, the World Cup bid failed because there were too many oval stadiums and it left no legacy left for the sport. Geelong, Adelaide, Perth and Gold Coast would all get new or improved stadiums and it was all for AFL to benefit. Then there was the final presentation that proved a total farce. FFA played the game of sleaze to win the bid and when that failed, they blamed the game of sleaze. Fans in return blamed the AFL, then the media. The media did nothing other than report the facts. The AFL made it difficult, reported. The stadia a problem, reported. The presentation a joke, reported. With the constant problems at A-League matches, fans destroy 170 seats, reported. Fans whinging about the media, reported. Socceroos qualify for World Cups, reported. Classic A-League Grand Finals, reported. Superb 2013 A-League season with crowds and viewers up, reported. Gee, we don’t mind the good stuff reported, right? If we don’t like the bad stuff reported then it’s up to us not to provide the material to report. We need to move on from this juvenile level of self-victimisation.

Ironically, when it’s our own mob slamming the sport, there’s no claims of bias there. SBS and TWG and Pim Verbeek were running down the A-League for years. During Central Coast’s recent ACL game, TWG’s Philip Micallef criticised the poor crowds and questioned whether Australia deserve the two spots that they want. None of this was in any mainstream paper. Had Micallef published there, no doubt we’d be slamming it as biased and hateful. As for the World Cup bid, it was the most inept and wasteful endeavour committed by this Frank Lowy regime. If anything, the media went too easy. TWG’s best attempt to “investigate” was Les Murray’s lap-dog interview with his sleazy mate and chief bid consultant, Peter Hargaty. Even the federal government did nothing to account for the wasted millions. The World Cup bid should never have proceeded with the stadium troubles and without unity of other sports. That’s FFA’s gross dereliction of duty, not the AFL. Instead of upgrading AFL grounds like Adelaide Oval, Gold Coast, Subiaco and Geelong, FFA should have upgraded Hindmarsh, Robina, built a new rectangular stadium in Perth, and upgrade Melbourne’s Bubble (AAMI) rather than the AFL ground in Geelong. Then you stuff the AFL and actually leave a legacy for football.

Nor is it the media’s job to educate anyone. That’s our job. It’s our sport that drives the narrative. If we don’t like the reports emanating from it, we change the narrative. With football’s steeped history in hooliganism and flares and vandalism, when it occurs at A-League matches it’s just natural to be reported, and it should be reported. Being in Melbourne and reader of the HeraldSun daily – a paper under the News Corp banner like Sydney’s Daily Telegraph that is often cited for bias – I see no bias. The only “crime” that could be cited is the sensationalist headlines. Since the newspaper does that on every topic, it’s not bias, just their style. Any opinion pieces that emerge, more typically in the DT, they are exactly that – opinion pieces. That’s freedom of speech. Often these are on topics that irk us anyway, like diving and poor refereeing. We just want such right to criticise to be restricted to our own realm. That’s ridiculous.

Again, it’s OUR job to educate. That should be first among ourselves, to stop the problems, rather than whinging on talkback radio and trying to condone the behaviour as that of a rowdy few. In fact, if it is just a rowdy few, then it should be easy to stop, as these people are typically active members of the club in the cheer squad. So far the only response by fans to halt this poor behaviour is Melbourne Victory’s and Western Sydney Wanderers’ churlish protests at their most recent respective home games trying to defend these cretins and blaming the clubs and FFA for not sticking up for them. Only when we stop being so precious and start being accountable for our own actions then we won’t see such stuff in the media. Because there’ll be nothing to report.