Soccer is evil. There is no other way to describe this fickle and cruel diversion.

The end: Cahill walks off in Nelspruit this morning. Photo: Toby Zerna

How’s this - having been pantsed by the Germans in our opening game Australians were yesterday forced to barrack for them in the complex hope that, somehow, the goal difference would fall our way and we’d progress to the second stage.

You know you’re up the creek when you’re a mathematical chance of making the finals. Think Wests Tigers and Souths in most seasons in the NRL, think Richmond pretty much every year in the dying weeks of the AFL season. The Socceroos were a mathematical chance going into last night’s game against Serbia in Nelspruit. To their credit they nearly pulled it off.

Needing to make up a four goal deficit from our opening game against Germany, for 10 incredibly exciting minutes we (with some help from our German chums) were one goal away from doing just that.

After Tim Cahill’s header in the 69th minute and Brett Holman’s just four minutes later, his second of the tournament, this time a brilliant strike from outside the box, the Aussies were two-nil up. And in the Germany-Ghana game, Das Mannschaft had hit the front. One more goal, by us or by Germany, and we were home.

Just one goal.

It was not to be.

Mark Schwarzer had been the undisputed hero of a first half where the Serbs dominated much of the play, with the ball in their possession for 57 per cent of the time. Serbian striker Milos Krasic was leading David Carney on a merry dance, with two shots on goal, and a goal disallowed through offside. In that first half, all that stood between Australia and near-instant heartbreak was Mark Schwarzer.

But it was Schwarzer’s uncharacteristic fumble late in the second half which set up Marko Pantelic to peg one back.

You normally know a goal is scored from the noise. You knew that this goal had been scored from the silence.

The score read Australia 2, Serbia 1. Calculator time.

We therefore needed another two goals in about seven minutes and for Ghana not to score against Germany. Or we needed Germany, which by this stage was coasting into the second round, still one up against Ghana, to throw everyone forward and start playing like a bunch of goal-hungry Latino showponies. Fat chance.

The crowd of 37,836 fans here at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit was running about 10 Socceroos for every Serb. It was massively skewed in Australia’s favour. But as the game wound down, so too did the crowd.

The nice thing though was that people didn’t seem disappointed. They seemed proud.

The Socceroos had expunged the horrors of that opening game. Tim Cahill, robbed of his chance to shine in the second match after the ludicrous red card in the first, had restated his greatness with the opening goal of the game.

Pim Verbeek had also learnt his lesson from game one - that the best form of defence is attack - a bittersweet revelation as it obviously came too late to let us progress in this World Cup. Who knows what might have been.

But at the end of it all, with our campaign now over, Australia can look back and say that, aside from that deluge of German goals in the opening game, we did as well as we did in terms of results as in the last World Cup in Germany - one loss, one incredibly gutsy draw against Ghana with just 10 men, and one brilliant win against the Serbs.

Go the Socceroos.

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47 comments

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    • ALAN says:

      08:30am | 24/06/10

      harry kewell was framed cheated by Blatter, the ref was told to red card some team member, so it happened to be Harry,as australia dont have a big following like european teams that bring in the dollars.
      this is the second time in 2 world cups now AUSTRALIA HAS BEEN CHEATED OUT,i,m no soccer lover, AFL for me

      The cheat is FIFA president Blatter ,he must go same way as RUDD.

    • Peter says:

      02:25pm | 24/06/10

      It’s a shame when people have to resort to such pathetic conspiracy theories - particularly after seeing such a heroic and fluent Socceroos performance, even if it was a case of too little, too late.

      Soccer, as the author said, is evil. Harry’s card was harsh, but within the rules. The fact that he hadn’t earned a penalty is the luck of the game.

      And to whip out the AFL v soccer card? That’s just sad, mate.

    • Martin G says:

      02:26pm | 24/06/10

      It’s true. This is why the major soccer countries (European, South American) have the decisions slanted heavily in their favour.

      It’s all about ratings and advertising, a few Euro majors out by the group stage is like India being knocked out in the CWC group stage - the ratings slide, revenues plummet… and FIFA can’t have that.

      Therefore FIFA is corrupt. Until they show they are serious about refereeing integrity, the professional soccer will continue to be a laughingstock in Australia.

    • Sheedy's Left Foot says:

      03:00pm | 24/06/10

      Can we have some examples of this please? Kaka got a red card, you don’t get much higher profile in terms of player or country. The red card (2 yellows) awarded to Germany’s Miroslav Klose was simply shocking, so another high profile player and country hurt by refs. If as people say it is a conspiracy to the TV favourites from South America and Europe then this would not happen.

      Australia has not been cheated out of this world cup, Harry Kewell handled the ball and prevented a clear goal, it was a nailed on red card.  Cahills may have been harsh, but it was a clumsy naiive tackle.

      This whinging does not do Australia’s reputation or that of the Soccerooss any favours at all. Harden up, sometimes you get the bounce of the ball, sometimes you dont. Plus maybe the European teams get decisions because they have better players who can fool a defender into making a bad tackle and don’t need resort to becoming a stand in keeper?

    • Martin G says:

      03:30pm | 24/06/10

      Sure. A few examples from games not involving Aus:

      - Italy’s diving to win a penalty against NZ absolutely disgusted me. Blatant cheating.
      - Brazil’s handball goal, the ref having a laugh about it after.
      - Germany last night handballed on the line yet no action was taken (very similar to the Kewell incident). Ghana missed out on a penalty and a German red card.

      Is it that much to ask for a fair go? All FIFA needs to do is stop being so pigheaded and LISTEN - have a look at the rules, some of them are disastrously inflexible (i.e. the triple punishment for a red card). And bring in video replay for card offenses and possibly offsides. Acting is a blight on soccer and this will stamp it out quicksmart.

    • David Prinisol says:

      04:22pm | 24/06/10

      Certainly not cheated out… Kewell’s was a definite penalty and red card.  He stopped the ball with his arm and the ball was going in for a definite goal. Plain and simple red card offense.  Still should have won that match though if Wilkshire had kept composure in 70th minute.

      Problem was the extremely poor tactics and display against Germany. 4-0 is what cost us, not any ref decisions.

    • Brain says:

      08:40pm | 24/06/10

      AFL vs Soccor? come on, does any other countries know about AFL exists? please…!

    • SM says:

      09:00am | 24/06/10

      Great piece David.  You must be wishing you were back here this morning though….

    • Jimmy says:

      09:07am | 24/06/10

      “One more goal, by us or by Germany, and we were home.

      Just one goal.”

      Wasn’t the difference still 2 goals at that stage?  So both us and Germany needed to score.

    • DG says:

      09:15am | 24/06/10

      FIFA is as bad as the IOC- they are all corrupt and full of see through ‘bulltish’ with only one goal, make as much money out of the event…...
      of course they wont want Australia to win or even get into a final, there is more money in elsewhere

      watch this space- just see how far the US goes…the game has traction there and its the right time for the USA team to get close to the final

    • Rob r Charteris says:

      09:21am | 24/06/10

      DG says:09:15am; perhaps soccer isn’t the World Game it ismade out to be.

    • DMR says:

      09:16am | 24/06/10

      Mathematics fail.  We needed to make up 5 goals on Ghana (we started the match on -4, Ghana on +1) so we were never closer than 2 goals away from progressing.

      Still a great effort to get that close and much for the boys to be proud of from the last 2 games.

    • Rob r Charteris says:

      09:19am | 24/06/10

      As a Kiwi’s I’m sadden that the Socceroo’s have their WC campaign come to an end, I agree with most about the dodgy refereeing, the All White’s are in the same boat where that is of concern. I think they were hard done by not to be further up the board. But at the end of the day it’s about putting the ball into the back of the net, and the Socceroo’s failed in that aspect. So keep ya chin up boy’s and lets work on the next one. Looking forward to the All Whites match tonight!!!! Go Boys!!!! Go!!!

    • Adam MacLeod says:

      02:36pm | 24/06/10

      Go you Kiwis.  We like your style.
      Show them how we play in the A-League.

    • Martin G says:

      03:54pm | 24/06/10

      We’re right behind NZ.

      Would be classic to see you guys get in ahead of those cheating Italians! Just be careful of the ref.

    • TCM says:

      09:21am | 24/06/10

      Quote “The nice thing though was that people didn’t seem disappointed. They seemed proud.”
      EXACTLY !!  Well done Socceroos, not only did you have to play the opposition but there were the sometimes baffling decisions by the officials you had to deal with…
      You played your guts out and in the end, thats all we can ask for.
      Bye Bye Pim and bring on Ossie Ardiles and make it snappy !!!

    • Andrew says:

      09:23am | 24/06/10

      Don’t understand why goals scored don’t count more than goals scored against. Bah to FIFA and their crazy rules and terrible refs.

    • SM says:

      01:27pm | 24/06/10

      Why should they?

    • Charles says:

      02:05pm | 24/06/10

      They do - if teams are level on “goal difference”, the next tie-breaker is “goals for”.

    • GJOESQ says:

      09:52am | 24/06/10

      As a soccer sceptic, I WAS very impressed with Australia’s effort this morning. However, the immense skill required to play this game at the highest level is totally overshadowed by the impact one or two refereeing decisions can make on the final result.  I still prefer the higher scoring games, such as Aussie Rules, in which, generally speaking, refereeing/umpiring errors are not so catastrophic.

    • Mr Pastry says:

      10:16am | 24/06/10

      Thank you (an AFL fan) for being gracious, a nice change.  Welcome to high stakes football, the levels of emotion is high and the bad ref decisions pump the emotion even higher and would be disturbing to a fan of a less emotional game.  But the bad decisions help create history and legend “we was robbed” but all the teams gain and lose similarly in the end all that can be done is get ready for the next big one.  Go NZ

    • ItsAllGood says:

      10:05am | 24/06/10

      The disappointment and despair of failing to make the second round only gets amplified as a team progresses.  To fall in the final produces near suicidal emotions, not good for supporters in a country new to high stakes sport. 
      Well done lads here’s to next time.

    • SkepDad says:

      10:25am | 24/06/10

      A couple more goals against Serbia.  One more against Ghana.  One of three terrible refereeing decisions not having been made.  All possibilities, all irrelevant now.

      Our chance was gone after game 1.  No, earlier than that - after Pim decided to write the first match off, sending our lads onto the pitch with instructions to minimise the harm, rather than to go for the throat.

      So Pim’s off to coach Moroccan kids.  Can we have an aggressive coach next time please?  One who’s not afraid of ze Germans, or anyone else?

    • Charles says:

      02:13pm | 24/06/10

      Chance gone after game 1?  No, not really.  All we needed was to win the Ghana game instead of draw, and then the German result could have been 10-0 - it would have made no difference.  But you are correct when you say “all irrelevant now”.  No point thinking about what could have happened - time to think about what we are going to do - 2011 Asian Cup and 2014 World Cup - and it starts next month!

    • Faul Kinell says:

      10:38am | 24/06/10

      Out with the old in with the new! Too many old tired legs there, no vision from the coach, idiotic selfish antics on the field.
      Soccer IS the world game, the whole world has a passion for it.
      AFL is a wonderful game here, BUT the great players in that code will NEVER have the opportunity to pit themselves against opposition on the international stage playing for their country.

    • Jasmine says:

      12:36pm | 24/06/10

      Nor will AFL be at the mercy of international ruling bodies who would manipulate the game to suit the countries in favour. I’m not sure “playing for your country” is as valued as it once was (even though players with a microphone under their noses will assert that it is), with most good soccer players playing most of their careers in foreign countries, and individual honours and contracts often taking precedence in international sport these days.

    • Bob H says:

      04:00pm | 24/06/10

      It is just so silly to compare AFL with Football.  AFL is a charming and quaint Southern Australian pastime (we do not take any notice up here it is League) and is insignificant.  It can be compared to cheese rolling in the UK (but without the international interest).  Football is the game that the whole world plays and is always a hard grasp for folk that have never even crossed the Murray let alone an Ocean.

    • sam crane says:

      10:46am | 24/06/10

      Firstly, it was a tactical blunder not to have Breshiano and Kellew play against Germany. Australia should have gone in ALL ATTACK. I agree with comments about the Red Cards given to Cahill and Kewell. Ghana was in deap trouble when they were 1 nil down. It was not a Red Card nor should a penalty have been given under the rules of Handball. Therefore, I assume that the refering decision was decided by corrupt behind the scenes WC Organisers. Australia are not that far behind in class and skill as Brazil but had their been no pre-determined decisions made by FIFA, Australia would have made it into the final 16. New Zealand and Australia have to go through the most vigorous qualifying stage to enter the WC as compared to African nations, South America and Europe. FFA should be lobing, grow some BALLS and put some political pressure on our Federal Gov’t to have a member within the senior ranks of FIFA.
      As for our the next Socceroos Coach, Guus Hiddink should be offer the job again and on his terms. If he wants to live in Europe were up to 90% of Australian players are based so be it. Were he could have constant contact European based players. I believe that was the main reason why he didn’t want to renew his tenor as Socceroos Coach

    • jm says:

      12:38pm | 24/06/10

      To say we go through a harder qualifying stage than South america is just ridiculous. We would get monsterd by about 7 South american teams.

    • Pele says:

      01:14pm | 24/06/10

      merica have much tougher qualification stages than either Asia or Oceania

    • S.L says:

      11:12am | 24/06/10

      I hate conspiracy theories but look at last night. Some of the rotten decisions given against unfashionable teams is getting ridiculous. The Yanks had 2 clear goals flagged offside and had to wait until the last kick of the game to snare a 1-0 win. England (who have been disgraceful all tournament) fumbled their way to a 1-0 trip to round 2. Now look at us. the Serbs were getting the lions share of the free kicks but after we went 2-0 up in 4 minutes did the ref come down on us or what? If he wasn’t under orders to keep us in check I’ll eat my hat!
      Well done guys you did us proud!!!!!!
      p.s If Brett Holmans goal isn’t on the FIFA highlights reel there’s something wrong!

    • Max says:

      11:13am | 24/06/10

      Love the article… but how is it the media has been so atrociously bad at doing maths during this World Cup? First Paul Kent comes out saying after the Germany loss we need to win both games and hope Ghana and Serbia loses both games to qualify. Then last night the SBS crew were talking about needing seven goals if Germany-Ghana drew (we needed four). And now you’re trying to tell us we needed a four goal turnaround in order to topple Ghana when we needed five!

      Next time calculators out please!

      Other than that I’ve loved the coverage Penbo, bring on 2014 and, of course, the rest of 2010!

    • SkepDad says:

      11:33am | 24/06/10

      If Germany and Ghana drew, Ghana would have gone through on 5 points (WDD) and Germany would have been sitting on 4 (WLD).  An Australian win against Serbia would have seen us head to head with Germany on 4 points for the second spot (with Serbia last on 3).

      With Germany at +3 on goal difference (+4 from Australia, -1 from Serbia), and Australia going into the Serbia match on -4 (from Germany), we needed…. 7 goals to match Germany on GD.

      A Germany-Ghana draw was our nightmare scenario, because we would need at least seven goals against Serbia.  SBS got that one right.

    • Sheedy's Left Foot says:

      11:15am | 24/06/10

      What? Are you kidding, the Kewell sending off was clear handball and as it was on the goal line was a clear red card. He moved he arm towards the ball and it struck his upper arm. Anywhere on the arm is hand ball and was rightly a penalty. Seriously the conspiracy theories are genius.

      Cahill was unlucky, it was a clumsy tackle and looked worse than it was. Probably should have been a yellow, red was harsh.

      However against Ghana and Serbia the Socceroos were excellent and can be proud of the way they played the game. It is just a shame that they conceded so many in the first game when for whatever reason Pim went on damage limitation which backfired spectacularly.

      As for a coach, go for the best you can possibly get, regardless of their nationality.

      Well done Socerroos, now to start building for the next campaign.

    • stephen says:

      12:35pm | 24/06/10

      Your penultimate paragraph is baloney. Pim the Coach sat out Harry K. cause he had no pride in his team. Sorry to appear parochial, but we should ensure an Australian is the next Coach.
      Europeans are manufactured (as much as anyone else, and i dare say it, even more so), by their culture and race, and will never have the motive to win that a local may.
      Mr. numbskull, Frank Lowy, should, instead, give his 6 million to charity.

    • Paul says:

      12:21pm | 24/06/10

      Sorry guys - Cahill’s red was harsh, but it was a tackle from behind that could easily be escalated by some card-happy referees in the tournament. It was at best risky and at worst reckless of him to go for the tackle in an essential match.

      Kewell’s is a red in any football game in the world. It hits your hand on the line, it’s a red card. Simple. Conspiracy theories based on refereeing are way wide of the mark.

      Great fight last night to beat a good Serbia team, but ultimately indiscipline (in defence against Germany and for the cards) cost the Aussies. What’s more worrying now is where the next generation are coming from. Oar seems to be the exception…

    • Your name:Cate says:

      03:25pm | 24/06/10

      I’m not so worried about the next generation after our last two performances. Wilkshire, Holman and Valeri were outstanding and are still young enough to feature in 2014.
      Ruka, Vidosic, Oar, Williams, Jedinak, Spira… plenty of young guys still to reach their peak.
      Now all we need is a manager that will give them the freedom to play positive football.

    • Sam Chowder says:

      02:03pm | 24/06/10

      I hope Julia recorded the game

    • mike watson says:

      02:48pm | 24/06/10

      Joachim Lowe needs a haircut….and a slap.

    • DD Ball says:

      02:49pm | 24/06/10

      The ‘roos were ok, they could have played better. Soccer is the winner.

    • Edward says:

      05:34pm | 24/06/10

      Nice article - except for one mistake. We were never within one goal of progressing. At 2-0 and Germany 1-0, we still needed a swing of 2 more goals to progress. I was hoping (praying) for a goal from us and another from Germany, which at the 80 minute mark was extremely possible. It just wasn’t to be.

    • papachango says:

      05:54pm | 24/06/10

      whatever. It could be worse. See the French team.

    • aspin says:

      07:41pm | 24/06/10

      penbo, couldn’t agree more with your article. spot on. and if i can just blow my own vuvezela for a minute - was one of only two aussies in a crowd of 150 serbs here in folkets park malmo - jumping up and down screaming like a madman after holmans cracker when germany were 1-0 up too. I believed for those minutes that the football gods would see us through. a proud effort nonetheless. the team showed what it meant to play for the shirt. just a shame we were took so many goals in game one. see you in 4 years i hope - time to rebuild!

    • hmmm says:

      09:11pm | 24/06/10

      Pity no-one mentions how hard done by Serbia were in that last game against the Socceroos - blatent Cahill hand ball not picked up and two harsh off-sides - but the refs only have it out for th Aussies right?

    • Der Mann says:

      09:18pm | 24/06/10

      Sorry to have to mention this buddy, but I’ve seen it now a couple of times on The Punch and it’s really starting to get me down:  it’s die Mannschaft, not das Mannschaft.  Like nails on a blackboard.

    • John says:

      11:52pm | 24/06/10

      Two errors in this article

      The Socceroos were never witrhin one goal of qualifying. The closest they got was two.

      And it’s ‘die’ Mannschaft, not ‘das”. I suffered through enough German classes to know that.

       
      .

    • td says:

      12:13pm | 25/06/10

      Both Serbia and Ghana had close games with Germany (heck, Serbia beat them) because they played to win.

      Pim sent us out to lose and look what happened. I have no doubt that if we had played the team we played against Ghana and Serbia it would have been an entirely different scenario. The past is the past and we can only imagine what could have been.

 

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