Socceroos: We were robbed, we were brilliant, we are gone
We were robbed. We were brilliant and brave. It’s a miracle that we managed a draw. We also threw victory away.
Such is the evil psychology of last night’s gut-wrenching clash with Ghana. It’s the worst possible combination for the commited fan.
It has as its foundation a smouldering sense of fury at the performance of the referee, cruelling not just our chances of victory, but so casually ending the World Cup career of Harry Kewell.
Layered on top of that is a sense of pride at the fact that we stayed level with our opponents. And bewilderment at our many subsequent missed chances, leaving us to rue what could have been.
It was an absolutely heroic performance by the Socceroos, one of their best of all time.
It was also a heroic draw, one we achieved against the odds with just 10 men after the Kewell send-off.
And it was a strong coaching effort by Pim Verbeek with effective and well-timed substitutions - forward Josh Kennedy for goalscorer Brett Holman, striker Nikita Rukavayatsa for defender Luke Wilshire, Scott Chipperfield for Marco Bresciano - that challenged his reputation as a dour coach who lacks flair and is too defensive.
But at the end of the day, whoopy-doo.
Our World Cup campaign is as good as stuffed and Harry Kewell’s World Cup career as good as over.
It might have been a heroic draw on paper, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels more like a horrible defeat, as we were so tantalisingly close to pulling of a win which would have have ranked in Australia’s greatest sporting moments of all time.
The mood among the fans in the outer at Rustenberg told the story.
At half time they were spewing bile at Italian referee Roberto Rosetti, but praising the composure the boys had shown to keep the scores level, but fearful of what would follow.
At full time, they were lavishing praise upon our team for its bravery, but replaying the many moments where we almost went 2-1 up, which we did so many times, with almost three times the number of shots on goal as the disorganised Ghanians.
The ref deserves some special attention - hopefully of the sit-out-the-next game kind from FIFA.
It wasn’t lost on many fans that, for the second time in as many World Cups, the iffy conduct of an Italian has helped seal our fate.
Rosetti’s send-off for Kewell only compounded our sense of injustice from the opening game where Tim Cahill was punted from the park and banned from tonight’s match for a tackle that in most other games hasn’t even got a yellow card.
It’s as if FIFA has decreed that our side, which struggles to score many goals at the best of times, should be denied the luxury of a forward line at this World Cup.
Verbeek made it plain what he thought of Rosetti’s call.
“I think it was definitely not a red card,” the usually circumspect Dutchman said at the post-match press conference.
“When I saw it on the TV…there was no way the referee could have seen it.”
“What can you do with your arm? You cannot cut it off. It has to be an intentional handball to send the player off.”
The fans agreed.
At half time, all the talk in the outer was that Rosetti was a fool and that Kewell had absolutely no chance to get out of the way.
Melbourne physiotherapist Darren West, 39, described the decision as “pretty terrible”. “I had multiple text messages all at the same time from mates back home and they were all saying and the commentators were all saying that it was rubbish,” West said.
The only thing that eclipsed the sense of anger at losing Kewell so early, and probably forever, was the pride at holding on for the draw and the frustration at not finishing them off with our multiple second half chances.
Watching in the outer was former Matildas goalkeeper Kim Schaefer, 40, whose father Manfred Schaufer was a member of the 1974 Socceroos team in Germany, said Australia were so close to victory.
“Pim’s selection was really good today against Ghana,” she said. “We were so close.”
Her friend Charles Vlachos, 37, of Brisbane said that whatever happened, the emphasis should be on how well the Socceroos had bounced back from the Germany game and recpatured their old spark.
“The one thing I really want you to quote me as saying is that they have done their country proud,” he said. “They really have.”
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