Doha: Every morning here, the Socceroos will have woken up to the sound of the muezzin call. There are too many minarets for them not to have heard it. It’s a sound never before heard at a World Cup.

Their match against Argentina was played at Ahmad Bin Ali stadium, named for the emir who negotiated Qatar’s independence from the UK (while remaining very attached to the shopping there). He also struck oil. That is, he founded a new power.

A dejected Aziz Behich after the final whistle.Credit:Getty Images

It is also where “Grey Wiggle” goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne performed the heroics that landed the Socceroos here by the narrowest squeak in the first place, though he did not recognise it himself, because for all the civil engineering flair and flourish in the new suite of Qatari stadiums on the outside, the internal fitouts are identical.

These were propitious omens. One portent was sobering. The malls, metro and stands were crammed with ceaselessly singing Argentines, all in national jerseys, giving the stadium a bleached look.

Ninety per cent bore Lionel Messi’s No.10. Most of this century, that has not been so much an omen as a given. In this era, if you’re going to lose, it might as well be to a Messi goal. So, after a rousing encounter, it came to pass.

Because of Messi (and still after all these years, Diego Maradona), Argentina are the preferred team of neutrals and nearly everyone else’s second team, including Australians. There were more photographers pitchside than spectators at some A-League games. It’s another Messi effect.

Lionel Messi celebrates victory.Credit:AP

Australian shirts stood out in their isolation outside the stadium and in a pocket inside (but lost nothing for bannerism. The judge’s prize went to: “Today I feel Mooy”). It’s a big world, and we’re in one corner. If they’re honest, they’ll secretly treasure the Messi goal, too. He had the grace to score it under their noses.

In the end, the portents were not false, merely opaque. The Socceroos gave every bit as good as they got, and would have snatched a draw deep in injury time had Argentinian goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez not got a random elbow in the way of teenage Socceroo Garang Kuol’s snap on the turn. It was his shot; it was so nearly his moment. Australia might have been a different place.

There’s no shame in this defeat, but that does not mitigate the pangs of national disappointment.

It’s both patronising and important to report that the Socceroos belonged. They knew it, talked like it, played up to it for 90 more minutes against a team that may well win the whole show. Now their country knows it, too. They touched it even more than the famous 2006 team did, more than nearly any Australian sporting team has. Why? Perhaps it’s that we’re still clinging to each other emotionally in the long COVID-19 lag. If so, salute doubly.

The Socceroos applaud the Australian supporters after their close loss to Argentina.Credit:AP

But world soccer has a G8, consisting of the eight nations who have actually won the World Cup. One, Italy, didn’t qualify this time, and another, Germany, made a shock first-round exit. Argentina was out to veto this third soccer world interloper, not so much a Johnny-come-lately as kind of benign friend of the cartel with observer status but dues unpaid.

Still, the Socceroos had dared to imagine the fates conspiring favourably. Big, big teams had fallen by the wayside. Surely that would spook Argentina? The climate would suit the Socceroos, who have had months of practising, playing and acclimatising here. They’d had an extra night’s sleep; that had to count.

For the first 20 minutes, predictably enough, Australia had Argentina’s respect and Argentina had the ball. Just when the Socceroos had played themselves onto terms, and even were beginning to give a bit of verbal aggravation to match the physical, and the volume of the Argentinian singing had dwindled to merely deafening – Messi happened.

It was a move so familiar it ought to have its own name. A give, a go, a stutter to balance, that short-arm jab of a left foot – he’s a biological marvel, isn’t he? – and the back of the net was rippling. It was the first shot on target for the match. Harry Souttar gave him something to remember him by, but as Messi left the pitch at half-time, he raised his fist briefly.

Emiliano Martinez saves Garang Kuol’s shot in the dying seconds.Credit:Getty Images

The weight of that first goal inflected in the second. To give themselves a chance, Australia had to take one or some. Goalkeeper Mat Ryan made the mistake, but it was born trying too hard. Julian Alvarez said gracias.

Craig Goodwin’s long-distance lash deflected from Enzo Fernandez to become an own goal and Aziz Behich came within one touch of scoring a goal to outrank Messi’s. Rhythm disappeared from the match; the ball became a catapult. Australia had openings, Messi might have scored a hat-trick – or made one. But weight of numbers – on the ball, in the crowd, on world soccer’s long-established scales – would tell.

World soccer’s paradigm hasn’t been overturned, but ever so slightly it has been subverted. Whether it’s a geological movement or a freak of this out-of-time, out-of-place World Cup, time will tell. But the Socceroos, alongside Japan and South Korea from their own region and Morocco and Senegal, were right among it.

Australian soccer history suggests that a lull now looms and sometimes becomes a dark age. Two forces might counter this. One is that this team’s heroics seemed to touch Australians hearts in a way that not even the 2006 team did.

The other factor is next year’s women’s World Cup, coming soon to a stadium near you. In 2006, it would have been a curio, no more, but now it’s a big deal. Momentum matters.

The 2006 team was full of big (Australian) name players with a world-renowned coach and it felt like the next step in a natural progression. It wasn’t, which only goes to show how good they were and how hard it is.

In all the interviews the Socceroos have given in this tournament about their exploits, to a man none have indulged in their own glory but as first recourse talked about how they hoped they were inspiring a generation as they themselves were inspired in 2006. It reflects a yearning that will go on.

Sometime on Sunday morning in Qatar, the Socceroos will again have awoken to the mournful notes of the muezzin call to prayer. If they strain their ears (or at least turn on their phones), they will find it is underscored by the faraway yet thunderous salute of their homeland and will know that they have at least hammered a peg into a new frontier.

A cautionary note: The emir was deposed by his cousin and died in exile in London a couple of years later. But the Socceroos already know that they’ve made themselves marked men.

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QOSHE - Disappointment, but no shame in Socceroos’ defeat - Greg Baum
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Disappointment, but no shame in Socceroos’ defeat

10 17 16
04.12.2022

Doha: Every morning here, the Socceroos will have woken up to the sound of the muezzin call. There are too many minarets for them not to have heard it. It’s a sound never before heard at a World Cup.

Their match against Argentina was played at Ahmad Bin Ali stadium, named for the emir who negotiated Qatar’s independence from the UK (while remaining very attached to the shopping there). He also struck oil. That is, he founded a new power.

A dejected Aziz Behich after the final whistle.Credit:Getty Images

It is also where “Grey Wiggle” goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne performed the heroics that landed the Socceroos here by the narrowest squeak in the first place, though he did not recognise it himself, because for all the civil engineering flair and flourish in the new suite of Qatari stadiums on the outside, the internal fitouts are identical.

These were propitious omens. One portent was sobering. The malls, metro and stands were crammed with ceaselessly singing Argentines, all in national jerseys, giving the stadium a bleached look.

Ninety per cent bore Lionel Messi’s No.10. Most of this century, that has not been so much an omen as a given. In this era, if you’re going to lose, it might as well be to a Messi goal. So, after a rousing encounter, it came to pass.

Because of Messi (and still after all these years, Diego Maradona), Argentina are the preferred team of neutrals and nearly everyone else’s second team, including Australians. There were more photographers pitchside than spectators at some A-League games. It’s another Messi effect.

Lionel Messi celebrates victory.Credit:AP

Australian shirts stood out in their isolation outside the stadium and in a pocket inside (but lost nothing for bannerism. The........

© The Age


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