Our greatest moment
Saturday, 21st June, 2014
By By Nick Yallop
PRIOR to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Australia’s prospects had been written off. Perhaps justifiably so.
At number 62 in the FIFA rankings, the Socceroos are the lowest ranked team in Brazil and have undergone a radical regeneration since Ange Postecoglou was named coach.
As it stands, the Group B table shows, Australia has lost two games and failed to qualify for the next stage of the world’s most significant sporting event.
What it doesn’t show is that the supposed easybeats took the teams ranked 14 (Chile) and 15 (Netherlands) to the brink of defeat.
Put simply, this supremely fit Socceroos outfit played out of its skin against Chile and the Netherlands.
To say they have far exceeded expectations would be a gross understatement.
On the back of a highly promising showing against Chile in Cuiaba, the atmosphere in Porto Alegre’s Estadio Beira-Rio was incredible, and had been in the port city for a number of days before the game.
With more than 15,000 Australians in town for the match, you couldn’t turn a corner in the southern Brazillian city without spotting green and gold.
Inside the stadium, a sea of gold occupied bay upon bay of the recently-opened stadium, which is home to local side Internacional. The army of Socceroos supporters behind the goal stood and sang throughout the match, with fascinated locals joining in the celebratory chants.
The raucous support provided great inspiration for the players, lifting them to heady heights.
The likes of Matthew Leckie and Tommy Oar swept down the flanks to a soundtrack of “Come on, Aussie! Come on, Aussie! Come on, Aussie!”, while the colourful but noticeably smaller Dutch supporter groups fell silent.
While the Netherlands scored first through Arjen Robben, their fans had barely taken their seats when Australia’s right-back Ryan McGowan floated a perfectly weighted cross to Tim Cahill.
The talismanic striker unleashed a venomous volley that rocketed past the Dutch keeper, into the underside of cross bar and crashed into the net.
Cahill’s goal has since been widely lauded, with some even suggesting it could be one of the greatest World Cup goals. The Australian fans, largely at the opposite end, were too busy going ballistic to consider the goal’s artistic merits.
Grown men and women embraced and beer went flying metres into the clear blue sky in a chaotic sea of flailing limbs.
I have never seen such an eruption of unbridled joy. Well, until Mile Jedinak pierced the back of the net in the 54th minute with a perfectly placed penalty.
Written off by every pundit between Adelaide and Amsterdam, the Socceroos were leading 2-1 against a team ranked 47 places higher than them.
While Australia held the lead for only four minutes, it is four minutes that will live for a long time in the memory of the Socceroos’ supporters who were inside the stadium.
Having witnessed the peaks and troughs of Australian soccer of my lifetime, this was undoubtedly the highest peak. Thousands of jubilant fans shouting themselves hoarse, thousands of kilometres from home, willing their country on to achieve the most unlikely of sporting triumphs.
What followed was somewhat back to script. In the 58th minute, world-class Dutch striker Robin Van Persie took advantage of loose defending and, 10 minutes later, Memphis Depay’s swerving shot beat Matt Ryan, who should have done better to keep it out.
While some fought back tears at the end of the match, there was an overwhelming sense of pride and exhilaration amongst Socceroos’ supporters. We had just witnessed the finest game of the 2014 World Cup thus far, and taken the highly fancied Dutch right to the line.
We now move en masse to Curitiba to take on another soccer powerhouse, reigning world champion Spain.
It may be a dead rubber, but there’s really no such thing in the World Cup. Should we draw - or even win - the Socceroos will finish above Spain.
Now that would be something.