Belief, energy and focus.
Those were the words Graham Arnold used after the Socceroos’ remarkable 1-0 win over Denmark on Thursday morning.
The World Cups are played on a tightrope; simple mistakes can decide games, simple games can make or break campaigns, and if you look down and start to waver, you’re dead.
This morning, the Socceroos believed, focused their minds and mustered the energy to walk step by step through the void to the knockout stages of the World Cup.
Here’s how the internet reacted.
The match kicked off at 2 a.m. AEDT, the most viciously inhospitable hour, but Federation Square in Melbourne was packed.
In Qatar, former Socceroos were there to support their former teammates.
At home, battling their circadian rhythms, the faithful watched the Socceroos take on the 10th ranked team in the world.
Denmark immediately took control of the game and Australia came back into their defensive third, barely touching the ball for the first 15 minutes.
Was this the plan? Defend from the start, until the distant finish? The Socceroos’ defensive block was solid, of course, but in Manchester United’s Christian Eriksen, Denmark had a player capable of sending a pass like a spike straight through.
Playing a game of football and enjoying so little possession must be demoralizing, but the Socceroos resisted the urge to abandon their defensive stations and go AWOL in search of some ball at their feet.
And indeed, the Danes began to tire slightly, punching each other, as their attacks were repelled.
It was 0-0 at half time, and with the same scoreline in the match between the France second team and Tunisia, the Socceroos were on course to qualify.
Halfway on the tightrope, then.
The second half began as the first had ended, with the Dane’s decline continuing and the Aussies sensing a scoring opportunity might present itself.
And then we learned that Tunisia had scored against France, and that if this lead was maintained, a draw would not be enough to advance Australia.
Australia had worn themselves out in a defensive groove, but now had to get out of it and attack.
And Mathew Leckie decided to organize this attack himself.
Two passes off the defense, and Leckie was racing up the field, the only soldier who had passed the peak, leading the charge into enemy territory, with his saber pointed forward.
A deflection inside, a deflection outside, then a shot through Kasper Schmeichel; it was a chilling display of go-go-voom athleticism, tight ball control and precise finishing, a laser beam shot through the mist, and Australia had once again scored first in this Cup of the world.
Federation Square was otherworldly.
Fans online were thrilled.
But, even with the wind at our backs, the rest of the game looked like a dreadful ordeal, one the Socceroos would have to endure.
A heartbreaking wobble occurred when the referee decided it would be a fun joke to award a penalty against Australia and then immediately dismiss it as the Danish striker who had apparently been fouled had was offside.
Their desperation betraying them, Demark began firing crosses into the Australian penalty area – with Harry Souttar standing right there, they might as well have crossed to a Godzilla-marked team-mate.
Defensive-minded replacements Keanu Baccus and Bailey Wright were brought in to shore things up.
The Socceroos were almost there, a few more steps down that tightrope, as the nation and its prime minister looked on, nerves ripped.
The final whistle sounded – a green and gold foot was placed firmly on solid ground in the next round – and the joy that had filtered through 16 years of group stage exits erupted.
And now, with the brilliant result before us, all the rugged majesty of this Socceroos performance also appeared; stoic discipline, burning effort of lungs, courage of mind and spirit.
It wasn’t a tactical triumph for Graham Arnold and his team here, in fact it was a pretty rudimentary game plan that required only one chance being taken and quite a bit of luck.
But it also depended entirely on all those things that you can’t put on a whiteboard, on belief and spirit and pride, those ephemeral forces that have to be evoked and maintained somehow other, and, above all, in which you believe until they carry you on this tightrope.
A date with fate awaits you in the round of 16.
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