France 2019 – Women’s World Cup Review

Alan Stajcic sacked for no reason sees Australia predictably fail

13 July 2019

On the surface, a loss to Norway at the round of 16 stage via a penalty shootout after 1-1 draw doesn’t seem so bad. It could even be explained as simply being unlucky. In reality, the loss capped off a disastrous few months for the Matildas, as Australia’s women’s soccer team went from genuine World Cup contenders to an inept defensive unit and struggling to beat teams they ordinarily were dealing with quite easily.

The troubles started when Alan Stajcic was sacked as coach by Football Federation Australia in January for apparently overseeing a poor playing environment following a “Matildas Wellbeing Audit”. A quarter of a players in two confidential surveys – the type that are notoriously used to inflate personal grievances into systemic problems – said they felt under stress, while the FFA cited “workplace culture” and “player welfare” issues. Director Heather Reid was quoted in the media at the time saying “if people knew the actual facts about Mr Stajcic’s behaviour ‘they would be shocked’.”

This was all a lie as FFA wanted Stajcic out for reasons unclear. While CEO David Gallop maintains Stajcic was sacked to give Australia “the best chance to perform at the World Cup”, who did they hire as his replacement? No, not Jesus, who would be just about the only person who could be doing better with the Matildas at the time. They hired Ante Milicic! This was a coach getting his first serious senior gig! So you replace a proven performer, who had won the Tournament of Nations in 2017, beating USA, Japan and thrashing Brazil 6-1 along the way, and followed that in 2018 with wins over Brazil and Japan and a draw against the USA, with a newcomer.

France 2019 - Women's World Cup Review - Sam Kerr misses penalty shootout kick for Australia vs Norway
Sam Kerr despondent after missing her penalty in the shootout as Australia lose 4-1 to Norway. Image: fifa.com

It’s utterly bonkers the FFA can expect anyone to seriously believe them and, indeed, Heather Reid would later apologise and withdraw her statements “entirely and unconditionally”. She would say “I apologise unreservedly for the damage, distress and hurt that I have caused to Alen Stajcic” and “I apologise also for pain and suffering that I have caused to Mr Stajcic’s wife and two young children”, while the FFA confirmed “Stajcic’s contract was not terminated on the basis that he had breached his contract or had engaged in any misconduct”. Reid has been on indefinite leave from the FFA board due to health reasons since the crisis started, and that’s probably the reason she hasn’t been sacked yet. Gallop has announced he will leave in December – at least 12 months too late. He should have quit the moment the Matildas, and therefore he, failed.

Still we don’t know why Stajcic was really sacked. Either that survey, in this crazy “woke” era we live in, spooked the FFA into a ridiculous overreaction, or the FFA wanted him out for whatever reason and commissioned the survey hoping to get some dirt to use against Stajcic. Many high profile players were stunned at his sacking, and defended Stajcic publicly. Indeed, many didn’t even realise the survey would be used against Stajcic, and had they known, might not have been so cavalier in answering it. So if there is any legitimacy to player distress, it’s probably only a handful of younger snowflake peripheral players who think earning a spot in a national team should be easy.

No surprise it was a dreadful start for Australia in its opening game against Italy when Italy tore them apart, and were unlucky to only win 2-1. They constantly breached Australia’s high defending, while Australia lacked cohesion going forward, and wasted possession. This was a continuation of the pattern we’d already seen in preparation games against USA and Netherlands, in which Australia lost 5-2 and 3-0, with the latter result only one week before Australia’s opening World Cup match.

It must be noted that team pedigree for the women does not align with the men. Even though they were current European champions, this was Netherlands’ second ever World Cup, while Italy hadn’t qualified in 20 years. France is still developing, while Spain is a step behind. Germany is the only traditional European power to excel, when winning the World Cup in 2003 and 2007. Norway has been the traditional European power (won in 1995), with Sweden just below them, as these were the first European countries that empowered women to play. In recent years, the more traditional powers have started domestic leagues for women and are beginning to exert their force. South America is still way behind with only Brazil showing glimpses of ability to challenge the best teams. China led the way in Asian initially before Japan took over (won in 2011). Now Japan are off the boil. Of course, the best female team traditionally is the USA. Australia’s mostly hovered around the second tier of teams over the years, and only hit the top tier in recent years under Alan Stajcic. Of course, he was sacked before his true test, at this World Cup in France.

Australia’s second match was against Brazil, which they won 3-2 after falling behind 2-0 – again being caught high. A goal just before half time was able to provide confidence leading into the second half. Still, it must be tempered with the fact that Brazil had lost 9 games leading into this World Cup before beating lowly Jamaica in their opening Cup game, and only lost to Australia due to a dreadful own goal by Monica.

Jamaica would be Australia’s final game in the group, and again it proved a struggle, and they had to thank some poor Jamaican defending and a goal-keeping blunder in their 4-1 win. At 2-1, Jamaica actually looked ominous until Australia snuck a goal.

Against Norway in that round of 16 clash, Australia were caught high again when falling behind, before managing to equalise late through a fluky direct corner. Naturally the Australian media whinged about being dudded against Norway. A penalty was awarded to Australia for allegedly hand-ball in the box. Replays show the ball hit the Norwegian’s shoulder and it would have been a clear and obvious error had the penalty not been rescinded.

If Australia were dudded, it was sacking coach Alan Stajcic for no reason months before the World Cup started. The defense was diabolical ever ever since, conceding multiple goals in most matches, and were lucky to beat Brazil and survive the group. Let’s not fault the players either. This debacle was all administrative, as when you sack the coach for no reason just months before the World Cup starts, you can’t expect it to go without consequences. The Matildas were put in an unmanageable position to succeed.

So the World Cup that seemingly Australia was on the precipice of achieving their best ever result, if not winning, ended in a performance and result well below ability and expectation. Sacking Stajcic was never about giving the team the best possible chance to perform, it was an exercise in vanity and ego, and likely to distract from the FFA’s own flaws. Let’s note the men’s team is at their lowest ebb in decades and the youth teams often fail to qualify for World Cups and Olympics, and now we have the women’s team go backwards. In a way, the Matildas’ failure at France 2019 is justice for the treachery of the FFA. Such selfish and despicable actions should never be rewarded.

Finally…

Overall, it was a great World Cup. USA won for the second time in a row and the fourth time overall, and showed their class throughout and handled Netherlands quite comfortably in the final for their 2-0 win. Most notable from the tournament is the Europeans have really developed and dominated, with the quarter finals featuring seven of them: Norway, England, France, Italy, Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. The standard has improved too, notably with the goal-keepers. In the early days of women’s football they were an embarrassment.

It’s a shame the American success wasn’t as unifying as it could be due to Megan Rapinoe’s unsavoury antics, notably kneeling during the anthem in 2016, the general criticism of her country, and the equal pay dispute between men and women. Curiously, that kneeling event was when Rapinoe started on the bench. She’d dare not do it on the field – restricted at the World Cup to simply not singing – and no doubt was told at the time she’d be booted off the team if there’s a repeat episode. After all, this is the USA national team. It represents the country and its people. If you don’t respect that, get out. If she was really passionate about diversity, she’d not be playing soccer anyway. One look at the American team and it looks more whiter than the Republican Party and that many come from privileged backgrounds. As for equal pay, she can start with all players in her own team and domestic competition earning the same. They do the same work, the same training, so why not? No doubt she’ll respond market forces and her value dictate her higher salary. Bingo. Same goes when trying to compare a Rapinoe to a Ronaldo, or the women’s World Cup to the men’s.

The Video Assistant Referee was highly visible in this World Cup, and while there was some minor controversy about decisions, this was more due to FIFA’s stricter guidelines on handballs and trips regarding penalties, than any wrong decisions made. Overall, it worked. Probably the area to rethink is offsides let go, and often only called once the player offside eventually touches the ball. This can causes players, notably defenders, run for the ball for no reason. Personally, the line referee needs to signal of a potential offside, especially an obvious one, so the players don’t waste their energy. If it’s not obvious, you let the game go and only check if a goal is scored, as is has become practice now. Ensuring goal-keepers don’t leave their line before a penalty kick is taken is another great use of VAR. It’s been an area of cheating for decades in the game, and it should have been long stamped out. Bravo to FIFA for actually doing good things for the game, and to the women for an excellent tournament.

Results

Group

Australia 1 – Kerr 22′
Italy 2 – Bonansea 56′, 90+5′

Australia 3 – Foord 45+1′, Logarzo 58′, Monica 66′ (OG)
Brazil 2 – Marta 27′ (PK), Cristiane 38′

Jamaica 1 – Solaun 49′
Australia 4 – Kerr 11′, 42′, 69′, 83′

Round of 16

Norway 1 – Herlovsen 31′
Australia 1 – Kellond-Knight 83′
(Norway won 4-1 on penalties)

Rio 2016 Review – The Great Australian Choke

22 August 2016

“I don’t need a gold medal for self worth.”

“It’s not about winning, it’s about trying to win.”

“It’s a racing meet; times don’t mean much.”

With quotes like these, respectively from Cate Campbell, Bronte Campbell and Mitch Larkin, is it any wonder Australia suffered yet another disaster in the pool? It was so predictable that you could almost write the script. Big egos, a nonchalant attitude, and absurd excuses. The latter quote is one in perpetual use, as far back as double world champion Samantha Riley using it to explain her two failures at the Atlanta Olympics of 1996. The folly of it and all the other excuses is exposed when you understand that swimmers live and breath by times. They are obsessed by them, and personal bests. The opposite is actually true for them: results don’t matter, times do. All training is geared around achieving a PB, with the key focus being to deliver it in an Olympic final. We even saw Australian swimmers ecstatic at doing a PBs in an Olympic final. Unfortunately, they were the ones finishing fifth. For the favourites, it was implosion after implosion.

Australia's Chloe Esposito crosses the line to win the modern pentathlon at Rio 2016The surprise gold, the most emotional gold, the best gold of all. Australia’s Chloe Esposito crosses the line to win the modern pentathlon at Rio 2016. Image: Getty Images

With the three aforementioned swimmers, also add Emily Seebohm and Cameron McEvoy to the hit parade of inglorious failures. Seebohm – the double world champion at backstroke – was so abominable she finished seventh in the 100 and failed to even reach the 200 final. She’s probably more a case of a training error – not timing her taper correctly. As for McEvoy, apparently he got stage fright – something at the Australian trials he even warned the public was a possibility for any Olympic favourite. Talk about the proverbial chicken coming home to roost. If not for the upset win of Kyle Chalmers in the 100 freestyle, and Mack Horton’s narrow win the 400 freestyle, it could have been even worse.

There’s a bigger problem at play here: the mindset. Every single swimmer responded the same way at post race interviews. All tried to look for positives from their defeats, like just being in the final, or being at the Games themselves, that was success in itself. The Campbell sisters used the fact of two sisters being in an Olympic final as a means to extract something positive from their combined disaster. This is not a coincidence; they are schooled to react this way. Except, you only need watch their body language to realise it’s one big charade. It’s especially glaring if you watch those interviews with the sound muted. There’s no way anyone could align their words with the body language. Cate Campbell was clearly shell-shocked, while Larkin was constantly battling his instinct to express disappointment and his will to suppress it.

Who’s to blame? It’s the sports psychologists and so-called mentors. One of the losing swimmers attributed this to Leisel Jones: “If you’re not complete without a gold medal, you won’t be complete with one”. Note that Jones is Australia’s worst choker and biggest letdown in Australian Olympic history. Of the eight individual races she contested, she lost seven. That fact alone should disqualify her from any such mentoring role. At the very least, the swimmers should not be using her for inspiration. My vague recollection is the quote is actually from surfer Layne Beachley. That would be even worst, coming from someone in a tinpot sport of her time like women’s surfing. Regardless of the source, it’s clear the substance of that quote is embedded, because Cate Campbell paraphrased it.

Deep down, they do need a gold medal for self worth. Or, at least, for self vindication. They don’t spend 20 hours a week looking at a black line, winning world championships, breaking world records, leading the world by a whopping margin, and go to an Olympics and think “I don’t really need this”. It’s this conflict between their competitive fibre and the garbage from the sports psychologists that’s creating all the problems. They enter the pool deck and realise their dream is now in front of them. Countering that there’s voices in their head telling them it all doesn’t matter. It throws them off their concentration and race-plan, and reduces them to a physical and psychological wreck when they should be at their most confident and calm. In typical Australian fashion, their response to handling pressure is to bully the opposition. They always go out too hard rather than remain focused and be respectful of the task at hand. It’s no coincidence that the favourites all flopped and those swimming PBs came from the lower ranked swimmers. Swimmers from other nations were swimming PBs too. While you can pick out one or two of them that did fail, the difference is it was only one or two. With Australia it’s a pandemic within the team. It’s been enduring for past 20 years too.

Another problem is the timing of the selection trials. USA has theirs around 5 weeks before the Olympics whereas Australia’s is around 5 months. Ignore comments, particularly from former swimmers and commentators, that it works for us. That’s the typical Australian ego that likes to think it leads the world in everything. It doesn’t. Not when one Hungarian can win the same amount of gold medals as your entire team. After successive debacles, which includes the “successful Olympic meets” that still produced gold medals below benchmarks, it’s an unequivocal failure. It’s not even about gold medals. It’s about times, personal bests. Not enough swimmers produce them when it counts. They all can’t be suffering mental breakdowns or stage fright. It’s physical – as with Emily Seebohm. Remember, this is a 20 year embedded problem, not just the past two Olympics. Then consider the time lag means more chance of carrying an ill, injured or out of form swimmer to the Games. Conversely, late bloomers and those injured during trials miss selection. On a strategic level, Australia’s early trials also mean we lay a marker for the world to challenge, and beat.

The main concern with the American system of trials so close to a major event is the double taper. A taper is when athletes ease off after a period of hard training just prior to an event to re-energise the muscles ready to compete at peak performance. As a triathlete many moons ago and in many bodies ago, I can attest it’s a wonderful feeling to race after taper. You feel like superman and seem to have an endless supply of energy and power. Typically the taper period is about a week before an event. This will vary between sports, event and athlete, as will the training block needed just prior. For some, a few weeks won’t be enough, and if they can’t master the double taper, then it’s a decision to set for trials and hold form for the Olympics or set for the Olympics and rely on natural ability and the existing training base to qualify. Offsetting that is American swimmers don’t have to peak twice a year. Asking our swimmers to go through a hard training regime twice could be wearing down their bodies. Double-peak vs double-taper, you be the judge.

The USA’s continued domination on the world stage shows their system works. After an even world championships last year between the USA and Australia, it was a pummelling at the Olympics with the USA winning 16 gold to Australia’s 3. While you can argue they have a huge talent pool, and Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, you can’t deny that those athletes that qualify are consistently successful at the Games. There’s also that Hungarian. Katinka Hosszu won 3 gold medals by herself, and it would have been 4 if not for the USA’s Madeline Dirado swimming a massive PB to just win the 200 backstroke. Our stars, like even Ian Thorpe in the 200 freestyle at Sydney, will more often flop.

Even more devastating with the USA is those swimmers that haven’t tapered for trials will swim much faster at the Games once they have tapered. In contrast, ours consistently swim slower times than trials. 73% of them did, according to former head coach Brian Sutton. We went into 9 individual events with the fastest time of the year, which included 7 world championship holders and a world record holder, and left with one victory. That was Mack Horton. Madeline Groves can’t be faulted either, swimming a PB in the 200 fly when second by a whisker. Kyle Chalmers’ win was compensation – and relief – for Cameron McEvoy’s failure in the 100 freestyle. The third gold was the women’s 4×100 relay – who were favoured. So it’s 3 gold from 10 events at a 30% return. In that sense, Rio was far worse than the “disaster” of London where it was 1 from 2 at a 50% return.

There were also some strange strategic decisions made in the 4×200 freestyle relays. Emma McKeon, who rebounded with a bronze in a hot 200m freestyle field after folding in the 100m butterfly, was dropped for the women’s 4×200. Australia missed gold by just under two seconds, so would she have been two seconds faster than the fourth best swimmer? Same in men’s event, where McEvoy was dropped, seemingly to concentrate on the 100m. That backfired spectacularly with Australia just inches back in fourth from a silver and McEvoy imploding in his race anyway (thankfully Chalmers was there to clean up the mess). In hindsight, this strategy for them to focus on fewer events only increases the pressure. McEvoy surely would have enjoyed the relay swim, and grabbing a medal would have eased pressure and boosted confidence for his individual race. Let’s look to the USA again, or even Hosszu from Hungary. They have no problems with heavy programs and will even swim twice in the one evening.

The reason the the team received so much criticism was because Olympic sports receive so much of taxpayer money. This is no criticism of the funding. After all, the $332 million over four years is peanuts compared to the $1000 million we pay every single month on our national debt, and Australian success at the Games boosts national morale. The last thing we want is the return to the old days of barely any gold. It’s merely about return on investment, and the public has a right to expect a minimum standard of performing to your optimum. Of that $332m most went to swimming ($37.9m), cycling (34.1), rowing (32.4), sailing (29), hockey (28.6) and athletics (27.9). Also implemented was the “Winning Edge” program, where funds are directed to those at the top – those sports likely to win gold. Reputedly it’s a copy of Great Britain’s successful program that saw them win 29 gold in London and another 27 in Rio. Australia is at 8 after four years of a 10 year plan, so the “copy” aspect obviously still needs more work, even if Britain’s budget is much higher at 274.5 GBP (about 475m AUD). It’s worthwhile continuing with it until at least Tokyo 2020 before any review.

REVIEW OF SPORTS

Here’s a breakdown of the success of all sports at Rio with the amount in millions invested.

Swimming

$37.9m – 3 Gold, 4 Silver, 3 Bronze

Running through the events…

Men 100f – Cameron McEvoy: According to the head coach, he got “stage fright”, and finished 7th at 1 second slower than his best. Even within half a second of his best would have seen him win gold. When Kyle Chalmers came through and won, you could really sense the excitement mixed with relief on the faces of the coaches. Like most of us, they would have been watching McEvoy, exasperated at yet another impending Australian failure, only to catch a glimpse of Chalmers in the last metres surging through for the win.

Men 400f – Mack Horton: Came into Rio with the world’s fastest time of the year, and won gold, just pipping Sun Yang. Horton caused the biggest attention outside the pool with his criticism of Sun’s drugs record. The Chinese claimed the drugs were for angina and were later removed from the banned list. Interestingly, the Australian Olympic Committee encouraged Horton to speak up and hog attention in contradiction with their “One Team” philosophy. Ask Nick Kyrgios about that philosophy and he’ll say it’s only when it suits them, is politically correct or is in their own sanctimonious favour. Anything remotely controversial coming from the mouths of athletes and the speech police are out in force.

Men 100b – Mitch Larkin: Went out too hard, being just in front of world record pace, faded to fourth at .3 off his PB. Hitting is PB would have been good enough for silver only.

Men 200b – Mitch Larkin: Similar to his 100, except improved to silver, and cost himself gold by swimming .8 below his PB. He was thankful merely for the medal at this stage, expressing an “at least it’s something” attitude.

Women 50f – Cate Campbell: This was even more disappointing than the 100. With the pressure off after that flop, and for an event that requires no pacing, expectations were for her to rebound. It would have been an easy gold if she swam near her PB. She finished fifth. Her sister, Bronte, and world champion, was expected to get silver. She finished 7th. Bronte apparently had should problems leading into the Games so wasn’t fully ready.

Women 100f – Cate Campbell: The most famous meltdown of the Australian swim team and “possibly the greatest choke in Olympic history”, in her words. Fastest time by miles over anyone in the field and broke the world record only a few weeks earlier. That raised suspicions at the time she might have peaked too early. Anything near her best time and it’s a certain gold. Finished sixth. Her sister, Bronte, like with the 50, was the world champion and expected to get silver. She finished 4th.

Women 100b – Emily Seebohm: Hopelessly out of form. Her best time would have seen gold. Finished 7th.

Women 200b – Emily Seebohm: This time couldn’t even make the final. Best time would have won gold.

Women 200bf – Madeline Groves: One of the big chances based on producing the fastest time of the year. She did everything possible: swam fast, beat the Americans, beat the Chinese, beat just about anybody you’d suspect as tough competition. She lost to Spain’s Mireia Belmonte by just 3/100th of a second. She kept producing PBs so she can’t be faulted.

Women 4x100f relay: Justified their favourtism for an easy win, and in world record time. This result – on night 1 of the Games – proves the Campbell sisters arrived in form. It’s inexplicable both failed in the individual events.

Women 4x100m relay: With their best times, they would have won. Ended up second by just under 2 seconds.

In summary, 9 gold would have been the optimum return. You also counter that with the hope some swimmers improve from the trials, and you got that with the likes of Madeline Groves, who missed gold by a whisker.

Archery

$2.6m – 1 Bronze

Took a well deserved bronze in the men’s team event, and nearly caused a boilover when pushing the eventual Korean gold medalist to sudden death in the men’s singles.

Bastketball

$21.1m – 0 Medals

Women choked. Won all 5 pool games, led Serbia through the quarter final, lost by two points. Too many turnovers cost them and couldn’t cope with Serbia’s swarming defence. Warning signs were there in the pool games, where they had to make last quarter surges in their final two games to defeat Japan and Belarus. The men suffered a similar fate, also losing to Serbia, unable to cope with the pressure defence, and shooting so poor that their half time tally was only 14 points. This after beating Serbia in the pool games by 15 points, and the only loss being a close one to the USA. Then it was heartbreak in the bronze medal game, losing by 1 point to Spain. It’s the fourth loss in a bronze medal game, and one that will be rued. Not so much the bronze medal game, more the wasted opportunity in the semi final. They deserved a silver and to play for gold. While the funding seems high for the opportunity for only two medals, basketball is such a popular game that it’s worthwhile the investment. Also, had the men got that medal it would be have been one of our best and most celebrated of the Games.

Canoe/Kayak

$18m – 2 Bronze

Jessica Fox made an outstanding run in the K1 finals to secure bronze. It would have been silver if not for a faint touch on one of the gates. The Spanish winner was in a class of her own. Next Olympics C1 will be introduced for the women at the expense of the men’s K2. That will give her – and no doubt her precocious younger sister – an extra option for gold. The flat water was disappointing. The men’s K2-1000 bronze was the only medal.

Cycling

$32.5m – 1 Silver, 1 Bronze

A shocker. Even though Australia had no outright gold medal favourites, they had a plethora of top contenders and the result of zero gold is an abomination. There are some excuses, like the women’s pursuit team crashing in practice, and the ridiculously dangerous road race course saw Richie Porte crash out. Australia’s best hope, Simon Gerrens, was already out of the Games after a crash in the Tour de France. Rohan Dennis needed a bike change in the road time trial after breaking his handlebars, which cost him silver. The men’s pursuit team broke the old world record in the gold medal race only for Britain to break it by a greater margin – and win by just .8 seconds. That was superb effort. The women’s and men’s omnium events suffered from bad luck and a crash, respectively.

No excuses for our sprinters, with Anna Meares’ lone bronze the best achievement from six events. Meares entered the Games with dubiously low expectations for someone of her calibre: do better in the keirin than in 2012 (not hard since it was disaster) and to win a medal (took bronze in the keirin). Rio seemed more like farewell tour than a real, intense effort for gold. A nonchalant 10th in her pet event, the individual sprint, said it all. Matthew Glaetzer in the men’s events showed none of the speed seen in recent international events.

BMX was a wipeout with Caroline Buchanan just missing the final after a careless crash in her the final heat of her semi final. She’d not have beaten the Colombian winner, Mariana Pajon, in the final anyway. Pajon backed up after her 2012 gold medal to really demonstrate the meaning of pressure. In the men’s, both Australia’s best hopes reached the final undefeated from the semi finals, only to blow it in the final to finish 6th and 8th. Both had poor starts than usual. Quite possibly they wasted too much energy in the semi finals, allowing for fresher legs to steamroll them. The only equivocation is that BMX has a sudden death final for gold, which opens the possibility for misfortune. Earlier rounds are run over three heats, and this would be a much fairer approach to decide the medals.

Swimming’s big failures has meant cycling – particularly on the track – has escaped attention. No gold medals is outrageous for a sport that receives so much money. Authorities would have expected at least 3 gold medals, and hoped for more. With the exception of Athens 2004, cycling are perennial under-achievers. It was only one gold in London and none in Beijing. Even considering the dominance of the British track riders over those Olympics (7 from 10 in London, 6 from 10 in Rios), one gold in three Games is outrageous. Like with swimming, it’s no point popping up at world championships in other years and dominating. It’s about the Olympic Games and the sport needs an overhaul.

Diving

$8.6m – 1 Bronze

Popping up with gold two times since 2004 might have boosted funding. A minor medal or two is usually our standard, and that was the result here.

Equestrian

$10.5m – 1 Bronze

Led the eventing after dressage and cross country in both individual and team, only to lose it in the showjumping. While the individual had the precarious requirement to jump clean, the team of 3 riders could afford to drop 4 rails. That buffer was gone with the first rider. The second rider jumped clean only for the third rider – the individual leader – to drop two. That’s equestrian, and the team was really only in such a strong position after a superlative cross country. Rio will be a good base to build for Tokyo 2020 and get four more years experience into the horses.

Football

$8.1m – 0 Medals

Women lost their quarter final to Brazil in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw. Probably a tactical error that Michelle Heyman shot sixth, instead of on the potentially winning fifth kick. Midfielder Katrina Gorry missed that with a poor attempt, whereas Heyman, a striker, was clinical with hers. It’s an opportunity lost as the USA had already been eliminated by Sweden, leaving the gold medal race wide open. Sweden, who would have been Australia’s semi final opponent, lost 2-1 to Germany in the final.

The men had long choked when they couldn’t even qualify. They couldn’t even score a goal in their final qualifying tournament against the UAE and Jordan. Only against lowly Vietnam could they win a match. After a similar disaster four years prior in which they went entirely goalless through the final qualifying round, the question really must be asked whether it’s worth the effort to try qualify. Australia couldn’t get many of their players from overseas clubs again, and football itself goes almost unnoticed at the Games as the public and media focus on all the other sports. Most matches are played outside the host city, so it’s a very detached Olympic experience for the players too.

Football’s history at the Olympics is also a dubious one. In the amateur days, it was dominated by European communist countries. Once professional athletes were allowed in 1984, FIFA didn’t want the Olympics to rival the World Cup so European and South American nations could only field players that never played in a World Cup. That lasted until 1992 when it became an Under-23 competition. From 1996, three over-age players could be added. This compromise for legitimacy has perpetually undermined the value of the men’s competition. There’s no restrictions for the women.

If football didn’t earn so much money for Olympic organisers, it would be dumped. In fact, it should be dumped. Brazil finally winning their first gold medal in the sport is perfect timing for it to go. The money Australia spends is no issue, given it is the world’s most popular and biggest sport, and it offers the most prestigious competition in sport: the World Cup.

Golf

$4m – 0 Medals

Australia led the men for two rounds before, you guessed it, choked. In fairness, Marcus Fraser had the better of the conditions on the first day to build a lead. He was never in it after that. More important is the boycott by many of Australia’s and the world’s best golfers that undermined the credibility of the event. The women, at least, took it more seriously, and now Rio has its very first golf course. Whoopee!

Hockey

$26.7m – 0 Medals

The men, as hot favourites for gold, capitulated 4-0 to the Netherlands in the quarter finals. It’s yet another massive choke from a team of perpetual chokers. Their record is now one gold in 40 years and 11 Olympics despite consistent, and sometimes dominant, favouritism. The women were battered 4-2 by New Zealand in their quarter final to add to their woeful record in recent Games. For such a strong sport that nearly always produces a medal, Rio was a disaster. If funding is all about medals, you also must question the value of funding a sport with only two chances to win medals and only a niche appeal in Australia.

Modern Pentathlon

$0.190m – 1 Gold

Our best, and most surprising gold, of the Rio Games, if not ever for Australia. Seeing Chloe Esposito trying to control the tears as she’s running the final lap of the cross country combined and knowing she’ll win, it brings tears to your own eyes. I can’t remember a more emotional one. Up there are Debbie Flintoff-King in 1988, Cathy Freeman in 2000, Alisa Camplin in 2002, and Anna Meares and Sally Pearson in 2012 – and I’d say Esposito surpasses them. It was a remarkable win, needing to overcome a 45 second deficit in that final event to win gold. Missing only one of her 20 shots at the shooting range, she won easily and set an Olympic record. The $190k of funding received by Modern Pentathlon – the smallest amount by far for any Olympic sport – would only cover basic expenses. With Chloe’s younger brother, Max, finishing 7th in the men’s event and their father as coach, it’s primarily a family affair keeping the sport going. It’s a an old school gold medal in that sense, built on dedication, desire and sheer determination. A total contrast to the prima donna swimmers that are pampered to excess and full of excuses. Esposito surely would have carried the flag in the closing ceremony if chef de mission, Kitty Chiller, was not a former pentathlete herself.

Rowing

$31.1m – 1 Gold, 2 Silver

Kim Brennan came through in the women’s single sculls and was the second most deserved to the carry the flag at the closing ceremony (see previous paragraph). The men’s quad sculls and fours finished with silver. Both hoped for Gold. The quad sculls the most disappointing, dominating the event internationally for the past two years, only to lose when it counts. It wasn’t pleasant either, with Germany, out in lane 1 after qualifying through a repechage, rushed to an early and insurmountable lead, seemingly without the Australians realising. In the words of one of Australia’s crew, Germany “pulled a swifty”. Australia’s normally strong finish wasn’t good enough, and apparently the strong headwind didn’t help. The fours were beaten – again – by Britain. No great surprise there as the British have dominated this event for 5 Olympics now. Considering all the funding to the sport, rowing finished at least one gold too short.

Rugby Sevens

$6.6m – 1 Gold

The women won as expected. The men were outclassed as expected. This is one of the better new sports to the Games, as it’s exciting, is open to both genders, will quickly build depth, and is cheap to run. You only need a rectangular field, and all Olympic cities would have at least one of those. You wonder whether athletes from other sports might feel envious at this instant gold for Australia. They dream all their lives, and across generations, about the Olympics and here is a bunch of women scrambled together over a few years from other sports around the country and suddenly they are gold medalists at the Olympics.

Sailing

$29.3m – 1 Gold, 3 Silver

Four medals from seven events entered, so mirrored London in total medals (3 Gold, 1 Silver) and can’t be faulted. If you were picky, you might want an extra gold. In truth, it could have been four silvers if not for a masterful display by Tom Burton in the men’s Laser to finish by the required 5 places over Croatia in the Medal Race. He said his tactics to pin the Croatia before the line and force a penalty had less than a 10% chance of succeeding. Or it could have been two gold if the Nacra 17 crew finished five places, not 4, over Argentina in their Medal Race.

Shooting

$8.9m – 1 Gold

Didn’t hear a peep from it other than a surprise gold from Catherine Skinner in the women’s single trap early on (she needed a shoot-off just to reach the semi finals). Expect that to continue for future Games.

Track and Field

$29.2m – 1 Silver, 1 Bronze

Dani Samuels could have got a medal had she thrown her best. She finished fourth. Women’s middle distant events saw many Australian finalists, including 3 in the 5000m,with a consistent burst of personal best times. Not that any of them transferred into medals. The spectacular derriere of Genevieve LaCaze proved to be the biggest highlight, and I’m not even an “assman”. There was a bronze in the men’s 20km walk, and Jared Tallent took the silver in the 50km walk to match his gold from London. Track and Field is one sport that shows the value of participation means almost as much as winning medals. It’s the glamour competition of the Games, and arguably a gold there means much more than3 golds in sailing.

Tennis

$0.684m – 0 Medals

As usual, a waste of time. Samantha Stosur looked good in early rounds then folded. The men and doubles teams never on the radar. The only bright side was Monica Puig to win Puerto Rico’s first ever gold medal. Her tears made you think twice about tennis’ inclusion of the game. Then you think of all the other players that don’t care that much, that Grand Slams are still far more important, probably even for Puig, and tennis is a waste of time at the Olympics.

Triathlon

$8.5m – 0 Medals

Top 10 finishes in both events was about expected.

Water Polo

$14.3m – 0 Medals

The women choked, losing a penalty shootout after giving up a 2 goal lead to Hungary in the last quarter. The men, who were never a realistic chance for a medal, were knocked out in the group stage. Much like hockey, so much money for a sport with only two events available. In fact, it’s worst: the men only ever make up the numbers.

Other Sports

Badminton (2.2), Boxing (3.8), Gymnastics ($9.6m), Judo (3), Table Tennis (1), Taekwondo (1), Volleyball inc Beach (8.8), Wrestling (0.06) and Weightlifting (1.6) are the other sports to receive funding. All figures quoted from Australian Sports Commission, credit: ABC media.

ELSEWHERE

The Olympics are unique in that often there’s misery one day and elation the next. I watch more for general performances, and found great moments even among our depressing ones. The USA’s Simone Manuel (who said black girls can’t swim?) and Canada’s 16yo Penny Olensiak tying for first in Cate Campbell’s race (100m freestyle), and the tears from Denmark’s Pernille Blume winning the Campbell’s other failure, the 50m freestyle. It was Denmark’s first swimming gold since 1948. She would then go help the team win bronze in the 4×100 medley relay and there’d be even more tears.

The triple tie for second with Michael Phelps in the 100m fly – the first time there’s ever been a triple tie for a position in swimming. Even more amazing was Singapore’s Joseph Schooling winning the race, and beating his idol. It was Singapore’s first ever gold and meant a $1m reward for Schooling. USA’s Ryan Held, as part of the USA’s men 4×100 freestyle relay, was also in tears by sharing a podium with his hero, Phelps.

A wonderful bronze medal was New Zealand’s 19yo pole vaulter Eliza McCartney. Seeing her explode into tears after Australia’s Alana Boyd missed her final jump was amazing (sorry, Alana!). Usain Bolt was wonderful, if not overly self indulgent. It must be compensation for running for such a short time that the sprinters feel the need to spend so much time celebrating and prancing about after the race. He was trumped anyway by South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk breaking the 400m world record, and possibly Britain’s Mo Farah doing the double double of 5000m and 10,000m in successive Games. Finally, who could forget Fiji in the Rugby Sevens, or Brazil in football. It was one of the first times in ages I was cheering for Brazil.

Not quite the highlight was Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte in the 100 breaststroke. She was a big highlight in London when winning as a 15yo, and I’ve been watching her career since and hoping she could repeat in Rio. She was 4 seconds off her best (as world record holder) and finished seventh. Notably she was bulkier than 4 years prior and probably lost that suppleness in her stroke and sits a bit lower in the water.

PUBLIC REACTION

Needless to say, there’s been much criticism against the criticism of Australia’s poor result. Comments like 8 gold medals are a great achievement, expectations were too high, that by population we did well, and the athletes did their best, all miss the point. First, they (read: swimmers) did not do their best. They readily admit it themselves, failing to produce anywhere near their best performances. Second, medal predictions were based on benchmarks – an athlete’s best recent time. Produce that, you win, it’s that simple. Clearly something went horribly wrong when so many failed. Third, population is irrelevant, it’s about wealth and funding, Australia funds generously. Fourth, that funding is supplied by the taxpayers. Three gold from swimming equates to a cost of $13 million each. That’s unacceptable by anyone’s measure. Cycling was even worse with 0 gold.

For the record, we are proud of our champions. We’re proud of Esposito, Brennan, Skinner and Chalmers – all of whom did step up. That doesn’t mean we can excuse the failures. The team is funded with the aspiration of a top 5 place, which is about 15 gold and 45 medals. We don’t send them for participation medals and to be gracious losers. With the taxpayer as their sugar daddy, there must be a level of accountability. Otherwise, withdraw the funding, and let’s return to the days of little Aussie battlers scratching out a handful of gold.

TELEVISION

My only complaint with Channel 7’s coverage was switching sports all over the 3 channels. It made it impossible to record anything – annoying when this was the first Games I didn’t take holidays to watch. Some structure would be nice. While the app had everything live (if you wanted to pay $20 for it), who can watch things at 4am every night. Also, you couldn’t record or watch on delay, or stream it to your TV. Oh, and Bruce McAvaney, Chile recently won the Copa America, not the Copacabana! He messed that up during the opening ceremony. He also fluffed the description of Usain Bolt’s 200m win calling it the double triple. No, it was the triple double.

I was also peeved that some nights two of the channels were consumed with tennis and golf. These became more an intrusion to the Games than an inclusion. Yes, I’d rather see sailing, shooting and judo during the Games period than sports I can see any day of the week outside the Olympics. In fact, any sport where the Olympic Games is not their most prestigious competition, it should be out. As mentioned earlier, football is one of them. For sheer stupidity, out should go synchronized swimming, and possibly rhythmic gymnastics. These are purely artist events, not sport. Besides, both are sexist, because there’s no events for men.

RIO

Despite all the troubles with organisation, the lack of local interest, dirty water, muggings and stray bullets, the Rio Olympics ultimately proved a success. That’s because of the one great constant of the Olympics itself – the fabulous sporting competition. As a host city, it won’t be remembered well, and that will have ramifications for the choice of future host cities, which will need to be large, safe and with most infrastructure in place. Tokyo 2020 will be peerless in that sense.

SUMMARY

At 8 gold medals, Australia ended up with the bare minimum as marked in the preview. Even then there was some luck to reach that. Catherine Skinner in the shooting, Tom Burton in sailing, Chloe Esposito in Modern Pentathlon, and thankfully Kyle Chambers meant Cameron McEvoy’s flop was irrelevant (other than costing a minor medal). It was good timing to add Rugby Sevens to the Olympic program too. Of course, you will always end up with surprise gold medals, and that is the beauty of the Olympics. It’s the reason I rate Barcelona 1992 so highly because Australia had struggled for so long and suddenly we had 3 golds within a few days with Kathy Watt in cycling and two in equestrian, and eventually finishing with 7. Overall medals this time was 29, which is lower than 35 of the London debacle, and the lowest since the 27 in Barcelona.

Still a problem is our poor conversion of medals to gold medals. The best performed countries always have more gold than silver and bronze. Australia went 8, 11 and 10 compared to, say, Hungary at 8, 3 and 4, or Britain’s 27, 23, and 17. It’s more evidence of our choke culture, which we can see all the way back to Sydney. They were our Silver Games, not Golden Games, when the 16 gold medals had 25 silver medals as companions. Only Athens has shown some balance since. The “Winning Edge” program needs to include that so that even a poor Games by total medals will still look good when by gold medals. Actually, this Games would have proved exactly as so if not for the massive choke.

In comparison to similar sized and wealthy nations, Netherlands and Hungary also won 8 gold, with the Dutch unlucky to finish on a sour note when Dafne Schippers had to settle for silver in the 200m on the track and the women’s hockey lost in a penalty shootout to Britain when attempting to win their third gold in a row. Britain, in fact, were phenomenal and clearly the best performed nation in my estimation. Lower down Croatia was superb with 5, and that’s despite losing to arch rivals Serbia in water polo. Brazil will be rapt with their 7, picking up gold in men’s volleyball and beach volleyball to add to football in team sports. Other gold medals were judo, sailing, pole vaulting and boxing. Commonwealth cousins New Zealand and Canada won 4 gold each.

Realistically, the AOC’s aim to finish top 5 I feel diminishes the value of each gold medal. In fact, we don’t even care about silver and bronze anymore, unless it’s a spectacular result, like almost the men’s basketball. Countries like Britain (if their funding ever dries up), France (10 gold), Italy (8), Japan (12) and Korea (8) are roughly our direct competition on the table, and we should aim to settle at 30 medals per Games, with an average of 10 gold medals and a top 10 spot. The exception are years when we know we’re in for a strong Games, because those ones (Rio) should make up for the bad ones (London). Now with this double disappointment, is it look out Tokyo 2020?

Medal table from Rio 2016 Olympics

Rio 2016 Preview & Predictions

Socceroo Realm 2014 Year In Review

01 January 2015

With the World Cup in Brazil and some controversial issues, it was a busy year for the Socceroo Realm. It also marked the first full year the website has duplicated its content elsewhere – onto WordPress. The main site (socceroorealm.com) has been online since 1998 and in the early years was always top 5 in internet searches and one of the few opinion sites about. As the game grew, and, especially, as social media grew, the main site was swamped. The turning point was the 2010 World Cup, which received less than a quarter of the traffic of 2006. So much media was now out there that the feisty little Socceroo Realm was struggling for air.

Even though writing is purely done for the enjoyment, satisfaction comes with the feedback from readers. Even the late Johnny Warren seemed to be one, if you consider the frequency of phrases quoted almost verbatim. Most notorious was the “bad day” after the Uruguay loss in 2001 that “some media” apparently were saying. I never read “bad day” in any article, and I read everything. Only the Socceroo Realm mentioned that game as a “bad day” – using it as a theme in two posts.

Twitter was the first step outside the Socceroo Realm’s own little domain, then came WordPress. WordPress also benefits in offering friendly viewing for mobile devices, offers searching within the blog and from outside, and the ability to update away from my computer. The main Socceroo Realm website is basic HTML written when Netscape ruled, and would require a major knowledge boost and oodles of time to retro-fit it. Since WordPress is such a wonderful tool and so prolific as the host of many websites, the move made sense. Also thanks to WordPress, we get this wonderful Year In Review.

(click the image for the full report)

Top 5 Blogs

1) Reality check as Spain outclasses Australia

Not surprising that the World Cup in Brazil leads the list. After the reasonable performances in the first two games provided optimism for the final match, Australia was ultimately put into its place. The blog also reviewed the overall performance of the team, and offered predictions for the rest of the tournament. As a footnote to that blog, Eugene Galekovic should have started against Spain. Let’s face it, Matthew Ryan made mistakes against the Dutch. Galekovic was now at his second World Cup and never played a minute. In a game that was a dead rubber, he should have been rewarded. We saw the emotion all Colombians received when 43yo Faryd Mondragon was given the final few minutes against Japan to become the oldest ever player at a World Cup. Galekovic deserved the honour of lining up on the field for the national anthem.

2) Bigotry rears its ugly head – and it’s us

Football (as a community and a culture) will need to embrace the mainstream media if it really hopes to be the biggest sport in this country. Sadly, the insecure, precious nature of SBS at its worse manifested itself into ridiculous chest-thumping and outrage over a satirical cartoon about Arab money buying Melbourne City (nee Heart). Then to turn into yet another attack on the mainstream media, it was breathtaking in its hypocrisy and stupidity. Of course, on that very day in the same publication were 10 actual articles about football – all positive. Just like there’s been everyday since in the mainstream media, football has been fully and positively covered. Go to a News or Fairfax site right now and it’s oodles of stuff on the Asian Cup and A-League. Still waiting for SBS to write an article about that.

3) Shattering loss and elimination in a case of “what if”

Australia’s game against the Netherlands. Led it, then blew it.

4) Finally hope for Melbourne’s second club as Manchester City moves in

The Socceroo Realm has derided the Melbourne Heart concept since day one, and it was no surprise the entity would collapse. I metaphorically bet a friend that within 5 years they’re gone or subsumed. It took four years. The best part of the new ownership is giving the club a serious look to them – a real football club – simply by being called something sensible: Melbourne City. I’ve personally found them more attractive to support and they would be certainly my choice of the two Melbourne clubs. They still have problems with their coach, who seems one to be more interested in excuses than results. Also, there’s a growing campaign by supporters to add red into the home strip in place of the thin navy blue (the colour of Melbourne Victory). Considering the logo features red as do supporter scarves, this makes total sense and helps with the lineage between City and Heart. Then Melbourne really will have a separate and viable second football club.

5) End triple-punishment and dubious offsides, for the good of the game

These are the two issues that currently cripple the game. The first has been self-inflicted by way of an honourable idea that’s lost its originating purpose; the second is the lack of realisation that referees cannot see two places at once.

Where were the readers from?

Australia dominated (obviously), then USA, Brazil and UK. Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were the most obscure from the 56 countries in total.

Brazil 2014 World Cup Review

20 July 2014

Brazil came to the party and delivered a spectacular World Cup. It will be remembered for the exhilarating football, especially during the group phase, the people, Brazil itself and the meltdown of the Brazilian national team. Despite many accolades of a new found Germany that took the game to a new level, they will be mostly remembered as being the most polished and cohesive team of an entirely pragmatic bunch.

Pragmatism continued as a theme for the World Cup itself. Everything worked as expected. People could get around to the venues easily. No real crowd troubles. No real security lapses. No real concerns with referees. No crazy interventions by FIFA. No controversies. That’s the mark of success and, with the quality of games and football and a deserving winner, that made it one of the great World Cups. Not the greatest. One of the greatest. More on that later.

Germany

Germany’s win is still a bit perplexing. They weren’t heavily spruiked before the tournament, they remained inconspicuous throughout, and simply did enough in the final to win. If not for that 7-1 over Brazil in the semi final, the rapture over Germany’s success would be much lower. After brushing aside Portugal in the first group game, they relatively struggled against Ghana, USA, Algeria and France. Even Argentina had enough chances to win the final, and then we’re finding ways to laud another team.

It takes a moment to ponder all the other teams and realise that there was no clear stand-out. Factor in the recent form of German club football, especially having six Bayern Munich players in a starting team, then Germany begins to make sense. That still doesn’t make them exciting, nor that they delivered an exciting new brand of football that will set a trend for the world.

It seems that much of the elite football commentary are desperate to ascribe something special to Germany just so that it took something special to lift THEIR World Cup, rather than some less inspiring and perfunctory unit. The significant ground that Germany made and that the saw the heaviest investment was in talent and player development, of which there’s no dispute they had all round the most talented team on the pitch, and with plenty in reserve sitting on the bench. To describe the essence of Germany in this World Cup: clinical, professional and accomplished.

Brazil

No surprise that Brazil wouldn’t cope with the pressure in the semi final. The surprise is the magnitude of the capitulation. They were a total debacle and probably did themselves a favour. Brazil’s real problem – evident for some time now – is it needs an attitude adjustment. No team has a divine right to win. Even though this Brazilian team was quite poor in comparison to others, the lesson to learn is to get used to losing. All other nations go through phases of their national team being poor. It’s part of the journey that makes sport so intriguing.

It’s not always about the winning. Fred and his cohorts delivered their nation a reality check. Better to be hammered in two successive games and learn your true place in the world than reach the final and lose to Argentina and proclaim it a national tragedy. Brazil would never recover from that, clouding itself in a belief the result was merely an injustice on their divine right to win. Now they know there’s no injustice. They received the right justice. They have serious footballing problems, and cultural problems. As Les Murray so eloquently observed, get back to the “jogo bonito”, and just let the results flow from there. Selling out your soul in the name of winning at all costs is not the way to guarantee true happiness for your people.

Third Place Game

It’s a farce. You’re in a knock-out tournament. When you lose, you’re knocked out, that’s it. No one cares about a dopey third-placed medal, and barely anyone remembers. All World Cup aspirations are to reach the final and then hope to win. To render another defeat on a team that’s already had their dream shattered, it’s soul destroying. Until one team makes a real issue of it, the charade of the match will continue.

Netherland’s coach Louis van Gaal mocked the play-off pre-match, then preceded to field a strong team and show joy in winning it. Maybe that’s more to do with getting in a kick on Brazil while they are down; you rarely get such opportunities to record wins over Brazil. One brave team needs to make the match a farce and treat it with disdain. Field all reserve players and just sit around the backline when in possession.

Goal Line Technology, Offsides and Referees

Great for the viewers at home to see the goal-line technology in action. In practice, it was never needed. In one match the referee might have waited for the confirmation (apparently that only takes 1 second) of a ball that was clearly over before the goalie dragged it back. There’s countless wrong offside calls that deny goals and goal chances in in every game that should be addressed, yet FIFA focuses on something that might fix a refereeing error once every 20 years?

While the referees did falsely call many plays as offside, credit actually must be give overall as countless times the line-ball decisions were allowed. Some plays might have been a whisker offside. All fine because FIFA dictates to favour the attacker. It then became depressing that even when the referees got it right, the commentators would dwell about a potential offside. Geez. Even if you want to ignore FIFA’s edict, the spirit of the law was to stop strikers loitering in front of the goal. It was never meant for the cynical and tactical device that it has become whereby anyone with a eyebrow offside must be halted for being a rampant cheat and grabbing a gargantuan advantage to score. Let it go. In fact, FIFA should amend the real that offside is only when there’s clear space between the body of the attacker and the last defender. Meaning, the attacker can be a full body-width “offside” under the current goal-denying culture of the game.

Shock, horror, Brazil 2014 really should be remembered for the excellent refereeing. That won’t happen because excellence in refereeing means they are oblivious to our senses. It’s only when they are poor that the referees are noticed. While they can never be 100% correct, even if video referral were added, they were almost as correct as they could realistically get.

The worst decision and the best decision I saw came in one match. The best being the penalty and yellow card when Arjen Robben was fouled early in the third-placed game. The commentator, as did many pundits, said it must be a red and the foul was outside the box. No. Being given a penalty actually provides a greater goal scoring chance, not removing one, while Robben fell inside the box. Let’s say you want to adjudge it as outside, then yes it would be a red because a goal chance was snuffed. So, after 3 minutes, we have no goal for the Dutch and Brazil a man down for the rest of the match, or do you want the Dutch a goal up and Brazil will a full team to try retrieve the game? I know the outcome I want: the one that is best for football.

The worst refereeing decision was when Oscar was given a yellow when it was a clear foul on him. The score was 2-0 when it potentially it’s 2-1. While the referee excelled with the Robben decision to preserve the game, he totally fluffed the one on Oscar to prevent it really coming alive.

Predictions

Since I was holiday just prior to the World Cup, my predictions were made as the group phase was well under way. The draw is always the key, and that allowed three out of the four semi finalists to be predicted. The miss was Germany, who were scheduled to meet France in the quarter final. France seemed to be the hot team of the tournament while Germany struggled after their initial 4-0 rout of Portugal, so favoured France. From there I expected France to humble Brazil and then there’d be a close final with Argentina. Initially leaving the result to fate as to whichever team was in dark blue due to a clash of strips, it was later realised there would be no clash of home strips so France would be dark blue and Argentina their light stripes. France the world champions.

In hindsight, the only change I’d have made had I predicted before the tournament was Spain to win their group and be in Netherland’s spot of the draw, so a Spain vs Argentina semi final a lock. The other side would be Brazil vs Netherlands in the R16 game, and most likely would have picked Germany to reach the semi. France struggled to qualify and would never have been on my radar. The unknown is Italy. Had they won their group they’d have faced Spain in the quarter final. Had they been second, it would have been Brazil or Netherlands in a QF. Either way, I’d have certainly expected Spain to triumph in their semi final, and most like Brazil to eke their way into theirs. While always believing Brazil will fold under the pressure somewhere (most likely the SF), that meant a Germany vs Spain final.

Best Goals

After finally seeing the entire goal from Tim Cahill, it’s number one because of the build-up from kick-off and for the purity of execution of a shot that had an ultra high difficulty level. It triumphs James Rodriguez’s for Colombia for that was more a pot-shot and only made more spectacular with the controlled juggle that preceded it. I rate it third overall. David Luiz’s stunning free kick for Brazil against Colombia is second because it’s far more deliberate and skilful, and, again, the execution was sublime for something of a really high difficulty level. Van Persie’s flying header for Netherlands against Spain in fourth.

Missing in many lists is David Villa’s goal against Australia. On top of the delightful back-heel sweep to score, the goal was preceded by a 15-pass build-up that ripped the entire Australian team apart. These expansive and elaborately constructed goals are far more satisfying than the long range pop-shots. While they are spectacular, they are largely hit or miss, with 90% of them heading into the stands.

Sweeping counter attacks are also special. France delivered a few of those, especially against Switzerland, Mexico might have delivered one against Croatia, Holland hit Chile with one, and there’s a few others I can’t remember. Either way, the onus should be more on broader footballing elements when adjudicating best goals. These top 10 lists really should have a mix of goals in them, not just the long range bombs.

Player of the Tournament

No doubt it’s Arjen Robben of Netherlands. It was the spark of that team and by far the tournament’s most dangerous player, and the tournament’s most dangerous player. The fact Argentina’s Lionel Messi actually one the “Golden Ball” is just stupid politically correctness of FIFA. The world’s best player of his generation had to be rewarded somehow if his team could not win the Cup itself. The simply fact of the matter is that when Messi had the chance to score a goal in the final and deliver Argentina the World Cup, he fluffed it. Whereas Robben delivered all the time. As did Colombia’s James Rodriguez. He really carried that team more than anyone carried a team, and was the tournament’s leading goal scorer. He’s second pick, so Messi at least third.

Moments

For all Brazil’s heartache, they did produce the most abiding moment of the World Cup: the disbelief on the faces of their fans in the crowd. As Germany piled up the goals, it really was stunned disbelief and the feeling of watching a trainwreck in slow motion. How much more could they take? Then it was just resignation to defeat, and pleas to stop the punishment. Enough damage had been done.

Second to Brazil would be the demolition of Spain by the Netherlands. While you could attribute that game as just a freak of sports, especially since many of the goals were circumstantial rather than Spain being actually dismantled or played ultra bad like Brazil did, the follow up loss of 2-0 to Chile confirmed a reign prematurely halted. That match also impacted directly on Australia, eliminating them from the competition. Up until that point, had Spain beaten Chile, Australia was still alive, needing to beat Spain in their final match.

Yellow Cards and Suspensions

FIFA’s a joke. With the paucity of yellow cards, media was criticising FIFA for allowing referees to be too lenient so to prevent the stars of the sport being suspended from games. So guess who’s wiping yellow cards before the semi finals start to prevent any star players being suspended for the final on a second yellow? FIFA! This was rushed in for the last World Cup, and remains for this one. UEFA just announced a similar rule for the Champions League.

Yellow cards will always remain problematic because they are no deterrent. Clearly the powers that be also don’t like players being suspended for future – especially bigger – games. Not only are they denying the player a golden moment in life, they are rewarding a future team that was irrelevant to the game in which the suspension occurred. The answer is simple: If a red card means permanent expulsion, a yellow should be a temporary one. At least 10 minutes as a start, maybe 15 to really have the cards respected and the players curtail poor behaviour. That way the team is immediately and properly punish, while the infringed team gets the direct reward of a “power play” of sorts.

Neymar

Sad to say, that’s the culture of the sport in South America – to cheat. We hear it all the time, it’s intrinsic to South and Central American teams to beat authority, to bend rules, even break rules, all to get one up. This “assault” in the quarter final that led to a fractured vertebrae is no different. The motive was to beat authority, not to injure Neymar. It looked harmless; only the result made it problematic, hence calls for a red card or some sort of post match punishment.

Let’s look at it if it was the first minute and the foul had no consequences of injury, and the Colombian is red-carded. Suddenly we’re all hysterical that the game was ruined by the referee’s over-zealous action, and that Brazil could just breeze past Colombia. Sorry, we can’t have it both ways. It was a dirty game in which Brazil committed 31 fouls. We either disdain this culture of cheating and applaud the courage of referees to give red cards, or we continue as normal.

Asia and World Cup Qualifying

As much as Asia’s results were poor of winning no games and achieving just 3 draws, this World Cup is a reality check that Europe and South America still dominate the sport. Argentina vs Germany in the final. Yup, we’ve never see that before. Or Brazil and Netherlands in the semi finals. While it’s easy to pick on Asia’s teams in last place of their groups, let’s not forget that seven of Europe’s 13 teams failed too, as did 3 of Africa’s. The two African teams that progressed had Asian teams in their group, and were then promptly beaten in R16 by Europeans. In the test against Europe and South America, Africa failed just as much as Asia did. Then you really should exclude Algeria, because they are more an Arab team and benefiting from so many French born players. From black Africa, the region Pele famously predicted they’d win the World Cup by 2000, they went backwards.

CONCACAF continue to be just two teams: USA and Mexico. Both eliminated in R16 too. In fact, Mexico has never progressed past R16, while USA’s only success was in 2002. Of Costa Rica, the third team that reached the knockout stage, only once in 20 years you might see that happen. Then they were lucky not be bundled out by Greece.

The solution? Nothing. It’s a tournament to represent the world, not necessarily the best 32. Otherwise, you should have a world qualifying phase, rather than by confederation and the squabble for spots.

Maybe there should be a world qualifying phase? Split the world into 4 regions: Europe, Africa, Asia/Oceania, Americas. Each get four direct spots, which could be based on their continental championships. Then you have 8 world groups containing a team from each region. Play round robin home and away. The winners and best 7 second placed teams go to the World Cup. The final spot is reserved for the host. This process would do more to help the weaker regions by playing serious games and against serious opponents, rather than mostly beating up their own to qualify.

Australia – Results Matter

It is about the results. You can’t tell anyone that had Australia been hammered 5-0 in every game that we’d have learnt anything or, indeed, been happy with “the result”. The fact Australia returned acceptable losses, pushing Chile and Netherlands in the process, is a “good result”. That’s because Australia exceeded expectations. So when you say “results don’t matter”, the real implication is that “unrealistic results don’t matter”.

Reality is that if you’re not playing for results at major tournaments, then why bother to show up? As we saw from Ange Postecoglou and some of the boys and many fans like myself, the fact Australia did not get a tangible result of at least 1 point or even a win, it was very disappointing. Missed opportunities will be long rued – especially that game against the Dutch in which Australia briefly led 2-1. While such losses will be tolerated for this World Cup given the inexperience of the team, it won’t be for the next.

Media

The only flaw with the coverage was Martin Tyler in the commentary box. He saps the energy from any game with his inane waffling. He’s been poor for 20 years now and the way he drifts off, it’s now far more frequent and lengthy these days. The best case in point was Germany’s seventh goal against Brazil. Germany’s in the attacking third and Tyler is waffling on, then suddenly there’s a goal and he needs to reanimate again. He should have been already animated. SBS probably doesn’t get much choice with Tyler, as he’d be part of a generic pool of English commentators for the English speaking world.

For an area that Australia could control, Craig Foster was a trainwreck as “special comments”, or whatever you call the audible verbal spasms he makes. Especially against Spain, the jingoistic coaching and cheering on every play was a national embarrassment and a disgrace. How about a touch of professionalism? He’d probably be the first to mock the patriotic commentary that Channel 9 does for cricket, and here he is acting like an infant. With Les Murray sadly now hosting his last World Cup, let’s hope Fozz is consigned to those more static hosting duties. The bonus for Australia is that there only three games in which Australia had to tolerate Fozz whereas Tyler was up almost every match day.

Other than the commentary debacles, everything was superb. The vision, all the studio hosts and studio experts and the support shows (sad that no World Cup show on Monday to review, hum, the world cup final!) – SBS might have delivered the best coverage of any major sporting event Australia has seen. All other Australian media was brilliant too, with News Ltd and Fairfax having comprehensive coverage, not to mention pay-TV Fox Sports having daily shows. Australia was so spoiled this time. It was amazing.

The Best Ever World Cup?

Was it a great World Cup? Yes. Was it the best ever? No. I still rate USA 94 as the best ever World Cup. After a gripping group stage, the knockout stage of Brazil 2014 was riddled with boring draws and predictable results. For all the talk of unpredictable results, that was mostly in the group stage. Come the knockout stage it was situation normal. All the group winners won their R16 match – the first time that had never happened. Of the lesser lights like Costa Rica and Belgium that made quarter finals, they couldn’t progress, with the semi finals involving traditional big guns of Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Netherlands, with the final Germany vs Argentina. Hardly anything to portend a new world order in football.

In contrast, USA had an equally vibrant group stage, followed by an amazing knockout phase. Goals were as prolific with USA 94 averaging 2.6 goals per game in the round robin compared to 2.8 for Brazil 2014. That marginal difference is explained by the greater number of blow-outs in Brazil, not higher scoring competitive matches. Portugal, Spain, Cameroon, Honduras and Australia all conceded at least seven goals, while in USA only Cameroon (mostly from one game) and Greece conceded at least 7 goals.

In the knockout phase, Brazil 2014 returned a measly 2.2 goals per game (1.8 if you ignore the German whitewash of Brazil in the semi final), compared to 3 goals per game at USA 94. Even the memorable knockout matches, there were none in Brazil, compared to classics at USA 94 like Romania v Argentina, Italy v Nigeria, Netherlands v Brazil and Bulgaria v Germany. If not for the rubbish final, USA 94 would have been just about perfect. Mexico 1986 probably comes second of those World Cups I’ve seen, with Brazil 2014 in third. If I’m to factor in Australia’s involvement, Germany 2006 will always have a special place in the heart.

That was Brazil 2014 – The Twentieth World Championship of Football

Asia fails and sticking with a France v Argentina final

27 June 2014

With the match-ups for the knockout stage complete, other than Spain’s early and humiliating exit, there’s actually been very few surprises overall for the tournament. Only Group D where both Italy and England failed to progress from the group, at the expense of Costa Rica and Uruguay, could you point to a surprise. Maybe Portugal in Group G is a small surprise at finishing third behind Germany and the USA.

The small upset in Group D means the earlier prediction of one semi final being Argentina vs Netherlands is all the more likely. The Dutch face Mexico then either Costa Rica or Greece, while Argentina must navigate past Switzerland and then either Belgium or USA. For either to fail to reach the semi, that would be an upset.

Knockout Stage Matches

Left Side

BRA v CHI
COL v URU
FRA v NGA
GER v ALG

Right Side

NED v MEX
CRC v GRE
ARG v SUI
BEL v USA

Despite the tougher run for both teams, I’m sticking with Brazil and France to reach the other semi. Brazil plays Chile and then either Colombia or Uruguay. Interesting that four of the five South American qualifiers play each other, meaning three can’t make the semi. Argentina stands alone for South America on the right side of the draw. The fact Brazil plays its fellow South Americans should be comforting to them. The times Brazil have been knocked out early it’s been by Europeans. Their opponents will be very familiar and most will play in the more open South American style that will suit Brazil.

The lower part of the left side should see France and Germany brush past Nigeria and Algeria, respectively, to then meet in a quarter final. Forget about France only securing a 0-0 against Ecuador in the final pool game as a case against their legitimacy as a contender With any luck, France could have scored the same bagful that they did against Switzerland and Honduras. They seem to have the fire power to break down Germany.

From the semi finals, I expect Brazil to crumble under pressure, from both the burden of being host and the fear of France’s attacking prowess. The Dutch defence has already been exposed as suspect, so expect Argentina to get through.

In the earlier preview, I cheekily said the team in dark blue to win the final, thinking both France and Argentina coud be wearing a dark strip depending on who is drawn as the nominal home team. Except, France’s dark blue is their home strip, and Argentina’s is their away strip, so there’s no clash. France will be in dark blue against the faint stripes of Argentina. It looks like it’s France to win the World Cup!

While France might be the prediction, who do I actually want to win? As always, a new team would be great. Based on the draw, Colombia vs Netherlands would suit perfectly, with the Dutch to win. So many near misses, including such a narrow loss to Spain four years ago, it’s time they won. If Colombia are the designated home team, Netherlands will just happen to be in dark blue too.

Asia’s failure – we’re not alone

All four Asian teams finished last in their group and could only accrue a total of 3 points between them. That’s courtesy of a draw each from Iran, Japan and Korea. Australia, in the toughest group, finished with nothing. While it’s disappointing, it should not be surprising, since Asia is still a fly-weight on the world stage. Only in the home World Cup in Korea and Japan did Asian teams excel, with Japan reaching the quarter finals and Korea finishing fourth.

Before anyone points fingers at querying Asia’s allocation of four spots at the World Cup, Africa and Europe can hardly claim a strong success rate from their allocation either. Three of 5 African teams bombed out, with the other two likely to be swept aside in the first knockout game. Excluding Algeria – an Arab team – it’s three of 4 failures from a region that was so widely hyped that Pele famously predicted they’d win a World Cup before last century’s end. They’ve gone backwards. As for Europe, seven of their 13 teams failed too. Europe, especially, benefits from a weight of numbers, and who’s to say that if more Asian teams were in the World Cup, some would not progress?

Asia’s small allocation meant they could not spread their numbers throughout all groups, and therefore have a team in all the weaker groups (even if three of them actually did have a reasonable draw). Does this mean Asia’s allocation should be altered? No. The only change should be that its half spot is linked with Oceania. This was part of the bargain for allowing Australia to enter Asia – that effectively Australia would not take a spot from the traditional Asian teams. At worst, such teams would finish fifth, and play against New Zealand. That happened for 2010 when Bahrain lost to NZ, which left no room for Asia to complain. For 2014, FIFA as they always do, re-jigged the rules to suit the more powerful confederations, meaning a random draw for cross-region playoffs that saw Asia face South America and Oceania face CONCACAF.

The World Cup is meant to represent the best teams in each part of the world. Ideally you have 8 teams from each approximately 50-team quadrant (Europe, Africa, Asia/Oceania, Americas) at the World Cup. Until all regions mature to a relatively equal standard, the best approach is continue performance based with a minium of four. Ideally this process should be more transparent so to end the ritual squabbling for spots. You do that by allocating spots based on an average of top 16 of the previous three World Cups. Meaning if Asia/Oceania had two teams in the top 16 for the last 3 World Cups, they get six spots. If Europe begin to average only 6 teams in the top 16, then their total spots should be 10.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Reality check as Spain outclasses Australia

24 June 2014

Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Australia 0 – Spain 3

Amazing how the nation’s mood swings. Before the tournament, no one gave Australia much hope of achieving anything against Spain. During the tournament, after the good performances against Chile and Netherlands, and with Spain at a low ebb after two losses, Australia believe it had a good chance for a result – at least a draw, to see it avoid finish bottom of the group. The initial feeling prevailed as the current world champions showed the gulf in class between Australia and the top teams, and delivered a reality check about Australia’s overall status on the world stage. In the end, the group table read Australia in last place with zero points and a -6 goal difference. Who’d have thought that pre-tournament? Basically everybody.

It was not just the calibre of player that saw Australia outclassed; they were utterly destroyed tactically. Spain allowed them plenty of room for the opening 20 minutes of game, allowing to pass around the back-line, allow a little space in midfield. When it came to the final third, it was total denial, crushing all attacks, and looking dangerous on the counter attack. Then Spain put their foot down. The pressure went on higher up the pitch, and Australia soon conceded its first goal.

The second half was little different to the first. Some freedom at the start, then exploited by the end. You only need hear the blathering Craig Foster in the commentary box one minute commending Australia for playing so well, and then the very next minute, after Spain score their second goal, Australia are being “handed a football lesson”. While Foster was a total trainwreck in the commentary box, cheering and coaching almost every single moment in the most embarrassing and cringe-worthy display ever heard on national television and should be sacked from any future postings, his nonsensical drivel at least illustrated the reality that Australia was facing. Indeed, it was a football lesson. Not just for the periods that led to the goals, it was a lesson over the entire match.

Such was Spain’s dominance, Australia did not have one single, decent attempt on goal. The total of four shots on goal were longer range and speculative – mostly out of frustration to get anything closer off – and never forced a save. The midfield was riddled with turnovers – often very cheap ones. Final balls often went straight to a Spanish player. Many of these passes were not even under pressure, hinting at a tired team or simply a team wary of sensing pressure.

For the third game in a row, Australia conceded 3 goals. All three goals were as a result of the defence torn apart – almost seemingly at will – with the goal-keeper staring down point-blank shots on goal. Jason Davidson was caught out for two goals, giving too much space on the Spanish right for Juanfran to receive from Andres Iniesta and cross to an open David Villa for a nice back-heel tap in, and then failing to move up with the defensive line for the third goal. That second error saw Juan Mata played onside in almost a mirror image of the goal by Robben van Persie in the match against Netherlands. The second goal was a defence splitting pass by Andres Iniesta, who simply was allowed too much time on the ball. The jury is still out about purging all the experienced defenders for this World Cup. Just that touch more experience and maybe half of these 9 goals are avoided.

Final Player Ratings

Goal-keepers

As is often the case, goalies are generally judged by their mistakes, and Mathew Ryan played almost exactly to the level you’d expect of a goal-keeper playing in the Belgian league. Holland’s winning goal would have been stopped by a higher calibre goalie. Overall, he was solid, making several great, reflex stops, without being the total security that you hope from your national team goalie.

Stoppers

In truth, Mathew Spiranovic and Alex Wilkinson did well. Especially Spiranovic, who’d been very inconsistent in his earlier Socceroos career when paired with senior defenders like Lucas Neill. Quite possibly being senior defender this time and giving him the marshalling duties has helped. While Neill might have helped plug some of the gaps this tournament, he wasn’t needed as stopper. There’s also Rhys Williams and Curtis Good – both injured prior to the World Cup – to push for a return.

Full-backs

Ivan Franjic supplied good crosses, while his injury replacement, Ryan McGowan, supplied the cross for Tim Cahill against Netherlands and defended well. No faults there. Jason Davidson, on the left, is the interesting one. Solid on the ball and at tight-defending; almost hopeless with positional awareness. He’ll need to move to a much higher club level than a mediocre club in the Dutch league, where he’d rarely face the testing offence that you get at international level. This position is where Neill might have been handy. He played much of his club career with Blackburn Rovers at right back, and may have been able to adjust with a left back posting. We’ll never know. Otherwise, Australia had few options there, and the position overall is still a problem.

Defensive midfielders

All three used – Mile Jedinak, Matt McKay and Mark Milligan – all serviceable. This area was always the area that Australia did not lack, and it showed.

Attacking midfielders

Tom Oar on the left disappointed with his touch, passing and even his pace was off. Without the pace, his small stature became a liability as he was often bustled off the ball. Other than against Croatia in a warm-up game, he has failed to really achieve the potential the nation has hoped. Mark Bresciano in the centre still has nice touches and passes. Unfortunately, he is let down by lack of pace, often dithering on the ball, and his shooting boots were way off. His substitute, Oliver Bozanic, did well enough to suggest a future. On the right, Mathew Leckie was a revelation, constantly beating defenders with pace and quick dribbles. He needs to improve in final passing situations and decision making to polish his game. Substitutes used in midfield of Ben Halloran and James Troisi were serviceable for the limited time they had and against the class they faced.

Forwards

Tim Cahill is not a forward despite his exploits. Coach Ange Posteglou summed up the reality of the selection in a press conference saying Cahill is among the best in the world… with his head. That seemed a slight on his foot skills, which is probably right as they have deteriorated over time, making it a valid reason not to use him in midfield. His strengths are forward with his head, his shooting boots, and is general ability to be a nuisance. Leckie was tried forward in the second half against Spain and looked much more dangerous than Adam Taggart, who was tried in the first half. Leckie could be the future. Regardless, the situation now is Australia’s biggest liability is in attack. Postecoglou said post-Spain that he wants Australia to be feared next time. That can only happen with a quantum leap in quality of strikers. Just imagine Arjen Robben and a Robin van Persie on Australia’s team. Results could have been blistering. One salvation is the injured Robbie Kruse waiting to return the national team. Also Joshua Kennedy, who was sadly omitted from the final squad. Just his presence, at least another aerial option to Tim Cahill, can be invaluable.

Coach

Ange Postecoglou is all class and nailed almost everything asked of him. No one really expected Australia to gain any points from this tournament, so the disappointment felt when Australia actually did finish with nothing reflects more on the in-tournament possibilities that arrived. Reality is the players are just not at the required level yet. Ange’s big test is the Asian Cup early next year. Situations will be reversed with Australia the team pressuring the opposition, with the opposition trying to create the surprises. Performing well will be a given. Winning will almost be expected.

Tournament Prediction

Being away for a month on holidays just prior to the World Cup meant no time for predictions. Here’s a brief version.

As often is the case, it’s the draw that counts. Also, teams that have “struggled” in the group stages and still won (like Argentina), no reason to write them off.

France have been the most impressive team so far, and have a soft draw, and should eventually meet Brazil in a semi final. Brazil’s main challenge to reach the semi is crossing with Group D, where Costa Rica’s success has consigned either Italy or Uruguay to second spot and a tougher path. Either way, Group D seems weak, so Brazil should cope with any of those teams. Germany, if it wins Group G as expected, could be bigger spoiler. If it in finishes second, it’s thrown onto the opposite side of the draw.

Netherlands are the most impressive team on the other side of the draw and should face Argentina in the semi final there. Belgium is the team that could surprise. While not excelling as some pre-tournament hype suggested, they have still won both games.

Despite the potentially tough draw for Brazil, and the home-team pressure, they should at least make the semi final. From there, they fall to France. The other semi really should be Netherlands vs Argentina. With the Dutch defence being a little suspect, expect Argentina to prevail. So France vs Argentina in the final, and an image is appearing. It’s whichever team is in the darker blue!

That is Brazil 2014 – The 20th World Championship of Futbol

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Shattering loss and elimination in a case of “what if”

19 June 2014

Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre, Australia 2 – Netherlands 3

Out and not disgraced, Ange has made us proud

Australia is out of the World Cup after sensationally losing to Netherlands, and then followed Spain losing to Chile, confirming both teams as the first teams eliminated from the World Cup. It was a shattering loss after Australia was 2-1 up, had a glorious chance to score a third, had another glorious chance at 2-2 to retake the lead, only to be bitten hard on the backside with some slightly sloppy defending, eventually losing 3-2.

Most shattering about the loss is that despite Australia’s excellent effort for most of the tournament – all except the first 20 minutes against Chile, really – Australia has absolutely nothing to show for their endeavour. It’s one thing to compete well; it’s a whole new level to produce a result. It leaves a hollow feeling, and the country seems, as a whole, to have moved on from the pride of playing well against the many predictions, to a big case of “what if”. The biggest regret you can ever have from a competition is “what if”. Australia goes home with a big one.

Defence was spotlighted as the area to address heading to this match, and sadly, again, Australia conceded three goals. You’ll never get results conceding 3 goals a game. While there was none of the nervous chaos against Chile, there was still the hint of inexperience that partially allowed the final two goals, while Mark Bresciano’s errant pass when under no pressure saw a steal and quick break for Arjen Robben to score Holland’s first. Tim Cahill immediately answered back with a spectacular volley, to effectively cancel out that mistake. From there, it was what if Tim Cahill did not over-hit his pass to Mathew McKay on the break to allow him a close shot on goal or better crossing chance for a chance at 3-1. What if Tom Oar’s cross to Mathew Leckie was at a convenient height, rather than at his chest to allow an easy save and keep the score 2-2. What if Jason Davidson learnt from his previous problems of poor defensive awareness, and not play Robin Van Persie onside for the Dutch equaliser at 2-2. What if Mathew Ryan managed to save the difficult dipping, a swerving shot from Memphis Depay that saw the Dutch take the lead. So frustratingly, that goal came directly from a counter attack from the Leckie miss. Australia scores that, it’s 3-2 to them. Instead it’s 3-2 to Netherlands. What if. What if. What if. It plainly sucks.

The one area of true pride that can be gained from this tournament is with coach Ange Postecoglou. He typifies everything that it means to be Australian – a good, and decent, Australian. Ambitious while being respectful. Confident while being realistic. With the Socceroos humble place in the world of football, it allows these great attributes to shine. Too often, in other sports, in which Australia dominate, the “respectful” and the “realistic” part of the equation goes missing, to the point that we become obnoxious bullies and spoiled brats. Ange keeps these virtues in harmony primarily by strength of his own personal character. Even at Brisbane Roar with the two championships and that record undefeated run, he remained the statesman and a servant to the greater good, to that of the sport. With the Socceroos, he takes that to service to another level, to the good of the country. He’s made this fan most proudest of our team probably ever. Australian of the Year? Prime Minister? A knighthood? While the instinct is to cheer wildly for that, Ange just wouldn’t have a bar of it.

Tim Cahill has played his last World Cup game. He copped a yellow against Holland in an unnecessary and reckless foul. That’s Cahill. It’s part of his character. On one hand there’s the bravado and cheek and irresistible attribute to pop up for a goal at the most opportune possible. On the hand there’s the arrogance and petulance and frustrating attribute that can harm Australia’s greater good. Note his red card against Germany in the last World Cup that saw. Cahill might say his greater good are the goals, and without his flaws, he just wouldn’t be the player he is. Maybe he’s right, and he bows out with the best goal of the tournament so far. It was a wonderful volley on the end of a sweeping cross from Ryan McGowan, and immediately after Holland had taken the lead. He’s been simply irrepressible, right to the end, and will be greatly missed.

Mark Bresciano picked up a hip flexor injury and is unlikely for the next match, meaning his World Cup career is over. He could count himself lucky to get a third tournament – being the only senior player with Cahill to survive the rejuvenation purge, and that’s despite playing in the Qatari league and coming of a four-month FIFA suspension and injury concerns. Whether it’s age or simply a result of playing in those rubbish Middle Eastern leagues, he was often caught dwelling on the ball, most particular this game that led to the Netherlands’ first goal. His touch was off, his speed lacking and his shooting was disappointing. Either way, it must be a blanket rule from now on that anyone in such a substandard league automatically disqualifies themselves for the Socceroos. In Oliver Bozanic, there’s a worthy option as a successor. Immediately when he came on for Bresciano’s after 50 minutes, Bozanic created the penalty opportunity that saw Australia equalise.

Ironically, Australia gets its wish of facing World Champions, Spain, in the final group match with Spain having nothing to play for. The prediction – or hope – was that Spain would be already qualified for the second phase. In actuality, they lost their second match too, losing 2-0 to Chile, to arrive at the final group match dejected and disconsolate in a battle to avoid last place in the group. Australia only needs a draw to achieve that target. It’s nothing less than they deserve.

Full site: socceroorealm.com