Socceroos veteran Tim Cahill is dejected during Australia’s World Cup qualifier against Japan.Source: Getty Images
THIS is the very essence of football.
The gripping tension, where every minute without a goal will be excruciating.
And any time trailing will be sheer torture.
It is the swirl of dread and emotion that fuels the round-ball game and draws nations together at the sharp end of World Cup qualification.
After a period of dormancy and distance, Tuesday night’s collective yearning will serve as a litmus test for not only the Socceroos’ ambitions for Brazil but their hard-won status in our sporting hierarchy as the national football team.
It is eight years since John Aloisi created a moment to rival Australia II’s winning of the America’s Cup.
With that qualification for Germany, the Socceroos broke through antiquated prejudice and traditional parochialism to give Australians a stake in something greater than the confines of domestic competition.
The historic struggles were adroitly cast aside.
As a collective, Australia made the nimble shift to believing it was a world power.
Robbed by the Italian diving team. Diddled out of hosting the World Cup by corrupt officials.
The ruthlessly efficient Pim Verbeek made a doddle of qualification for South Africa, so much so the nation barely stirred when a nil-all draw in Doha secured passage.
Football Federation Australia’s own history recounts the chapter under the heading “Back Where We Belong”.
For his trouble Pim was despised. The Socceroos didn’t play the way the custodians desired.
The operation exploded in failure and acrimony against Germany in their tournament opener.
This campaign under Holger Osieck has, until last week, been waged with precious little traction.
The lessons of the past appear forgotten, regrettably replaced by a public sense that advancement is a formality.
A decidedly ordinary picture through this final phase should jolt such complacency.
One win, four draws and a loss, with only seven goals scored, has reduced to slim the margin for error over the next 10 days.
The heightened awareness will serve the sport well should the Socceroos prevail as the masses take an emotional stake against Jordan and Iraq.
Better still would be if a new hero emerges to replace the dimming images of Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill.
A burst of Tommy Oar or Robbie Kruse might be just the adrenalin shot the Socceroos need.
But failure would provide an unwelcome examination.
It is unclear whether football here is insulated against missing a World Cup.
The FFA would be desperate to avoid having to learn the answer and how it might diminish the national connection with the Socceroos, a team that will soon lose its household names to retirement — Kewell, Cahill, Schwarzer, Neill and Bresciano — without a well-known cast of replacements.
The nation’s Test cricket team has always carried the banner of national identity.
We are a people unified under the baggy green.
Australia entrusts a group of young men to go forth on our behalf and uphold standards not only of play but of conduct.
Thus the team is held to a higher standard.
Winning is an imperative, but the manner in which the Australian cricket team wins is equally treasured.
Behaving as bullies or braggarts in dominant phases has always caused swift and stern rebuke.
For myriad self-inflicted reasons, this current team is in breach of public good will.
There’s a prevailing mood that an Ashes belting would be little short of comeuppance.
In a country devoted to football, the designated national team for a good period before being usurped by the Socceroos was the Wallabies.
While the intricacies of rugby union might have remained a mystery, David Campese, Nick Farr-Jones and John Eales brought the unconverted to the gold jersey.
But that team languishes under the tyranny of the All Blacks and a coach testing the limits of patience.
This international season, which showcases the phenomenally popular British and Irish Lions, has the potential to recast images.
Should Israel Folau, a household name across the NRL and AFL, recast Wallaby fortunes the nomad of football might finally find his place.
The Socceroos come to be tested these next two Tuesday nights, not only for a position in a World Cup but their place in the hearts and minds of the Australian sporting public.
It’s impossible to overstate how much rests on the outcome.
May they go forth and prosper.
Herald Sun – 08 June 2013