You tell me.
In the history of Australian sport, has there ever been a magic moment manqué quite like it? I am talking a moment just missed, a moment where the stakes were so enormous, the set-up so dramatic, the derring-do so inspirational . . . and everything positioned perfectly to provide a moment that would be talked about and gloried in for decades to come . . . only for it to just miss by a hair’s breadth.
You surely remember the moment.
Yes, last Sunday morning, Argentina had gone to a 2-0 lead against the Socceroos in the round of 16 in the World Cup, and it was pretty much all over bar the shouting. But then with 13 minutes to go in regulation time, Craig Goodwin smashes the ball and it bounces off an Argentinian defender to bring it back to 2-1! Suddenly, Australia are half a sniff of half a chance to stay in it. It is going to take a miracle, but look, maybe we have a miracle-maker in our ranks?
For Graham Arnold has already just pulled off the bench an 18-year-old, Garang Kuol, a young man who had first come to Australia as a South Sudanese refugee, via Egypt. He’s on, up against some of the best players in the world, including Lionel Messi! But he’s clearly not overawed.
With just two minutes to go, a superbly placed ball comes to Kuol from Goodwin – yes, him again – as Argentinian defenders swarm. Kuol, who was doing his HSC not that long ago, rises to the occasion. With a swivel, a swerve and a switcheroo, he creates a tiny bit of space, a possible gap, draws his right foot back on the ball and strikes it towards the goalmouth!
Garang Kuol is denied an equaliser by Argentina keeper Emi Martinez.Credit:Getty
It will take a world-class goalkeeper to stop it.
In desperation Emiliano Martinez hurls himself into space, and the ball cannons off his outstretched left arm. The goal is saved, and so are Argentina.
Australia lose, 2-1, moments later. So close, and yet so far.
But what might have been! Just imagine for a moment:
Garang Kuol of Australia shoots during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match.Credit:Getty
Australia tie it up 2-2 with a minute on the clock, and go on to win the penalty shootout! Kuol is the youngest player to score in the knockout stages of a World Cup since Pele in the 1950s! Australia are in to the quarter-finals, and if we can beat Argentina, who can’t we beat?
Not to be. So close.
Still, bravo, young man. Kuol’s equanimity and grace at the narrow miss bespeaks one who knows he has greatness in him, with many victories to come, and he’s right.
But, I repeat. Can you think of anything in Australian sport to match it, where sporting immortality was missed by centimetres? I got nothing. We still talk about John Aloisi’s fine goal 16 years on. What would we have done with that goal?
In case you missed it, Google put out a list this week of the subjects that saw the biggest surge in searches this year in Australia. No fewer than seven of them were in sport! I take it as some sign that in the current grim times, where worries abound all around – some of them existential worries – sport continues to be the great distractor, the entertainment elixir, the go-to uplifting subject for much of the populace when all else fails. Not counting “Wordle,” which came in at No.1, the sports subjects that most interested us this year were:
1. Australian Open. With Ash Barty in her prime in the singles, while Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis were tearing ’em up in the men’s doubles, everyone climbed on board as never before.
2. World Cup. Not surprisingly, with the Socceroos performing at the World Cup better than any previous Australian team, and upset succeeding upset in the rest of the tournament, the mob was all over it.
3. Shane Warne. His tragic death, way too young, was probably Australia’s “JFK” moment of the decade – in the sense that most of us all will long remember where we were when we heard the news. (Seeing as you ask, being nearly asleep in the wee hours, when my wife woke me by shouting “Oh my God, Shane Warne has died!”)
4. Novak Djokovic. One of the more ludicrous stuff-ups of the year. By all means stop the unvaxxed tennis player at the border – but it should have been his border, not ours. His was a story where sport and politics collided.
5. The Ashes. Our blokes won four of the five Tests.
6. Ash Barty. Not only did the Wimbledon winner go on to win the Australian Open, but she suddenly retired in March, while at the peak of her powers.
Graham Arnold after the elimination of the Socceroos: “I just hope that everyone back in Australia really respects what we’ve done and are proud of us as well. We took it to them. I felt that we finished off well. We had a great chance at the end there to equalise. I’ve got to be very, very proud of the boys. Just so grateful at the effort they’ve put in for me.”
Socceroo star-in-the-making Garang Kuol, 18: “I was telling myself I’d come on and score a goal, and Arnie was telling me the same thing. So, when I wasn’t able to score, I was very disappointed, just got to move on. It’s been unreal. Going one-on-one with Messi for a bit, like a dream.”
Socceroo Cam Devlin after swapping shirts with Lionel Messi: “The jersey is going to be at my home and my dad has got it. I don’t think he’ll let me touch it anymore.”
Socceroo Jackson Irvine: “You have to have a go with the last 15 minutes. I think we did everything we could to give ourselves a chance in the game. When Argentina are celebrating like this, victory against Australia, I think it shows what kind of opposition we gave them today.”
Socceroo goalkeeper Mat Ryan: “I haven’t seen a replay, but I’ll analyse it and I can only learn from it. We learn from our hardships in life and it’s definitely one for me. It hurts a lot, but I won’t let it get the better of me or define me. I’ll come back stronger for it.” Mat, mate, it’s already forgotten. The Socceroos did so brilliantly, that is the headline – your mistake no more than a footnote.
Craig Foster sums it up perfectly: “The greatest compliments possible to everyone on that bench, everyone on the field, this entire group, what you have done, you have pushed the potential world champions here and twice former champions, one of the greatest players in the world, you have pushed them to the limit.”
David Warner.Credit:John Shakespeare
David Warner in a long and detailed statement rejecting the hearing process to determine if he would be able to take a leadership role in cricket: “In effect, counsel assisting, and, it appears, to some extent the review panel, want to conduct a public trial of me and what occurred during the third Test at Newlands. They want to conduct a public spectacle to, in the panel’s words, have a ‘cleansing’. I am not prepared for my family to be the washing machine for cricket’s dirty laundry. My family is more important to me than cricket.”
Greg Norman: “No matter where I go in the world, nobody – not one person – has said what I’m doing is stupid or wrong.” Ahem. Greg? Lean in. What you’re doing is stupid, and it’s wrong!
Rory McIlroy in response to things Norman said in an interview earlier in the year that he didn’t like: “I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to make it my business now to be as much of a pain in his arse as possible’.”
McIlroy on Norman: “I think if they had found someone less polarising, LIV could have made more inroads.”
Japanese captain Maya Yoshida on a Sisyphean four years ahead of them after their World Cup elimination: “Every day, for four years, we worked hard to break this barrier (by reaching the final eight) but we couldn’t get the result we wanted. It’s really hard to take.”
Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney after firing Eddie Jones: “He has the highest win ratio of any previous England head coach and has helped develop the leadership skills of many players and coaches. It is important to recognise the huge contribution Eddie has made to English rugby, winning three Six Nations Championships, one grand slam and taking us to a Rugby World Cup final.”
Philosophical Spanish coach Luis Enrique after their World Cup elimination at the hands of tiny Morocco: “We have to congratulate the winners. They played their game, it turned out well, they were better than us in the penalty shootout. I think children have to learn how to lose, regardless of whether you deserve it or not.”
Socceroos. Finish their World Cup in glory, losing to France and narrowly going down to Argentina, but beating both Denmark and Tunisia along the way for the best outing of an Australian team at a World Cup.
Brett Robinson. Broke Robert de Castella’s 1986 Australian marathon record, with a 2:07.31 in Fukuoka, Japan, in only his eighth marathon. Here’s to you, Mr Robinson. Hours later, in Boston, the 45-year-old Sinead Diver also smashed the long-standing women’s record of Benita Willis, knocking off a minute to take it down to 2:21:34.
Former England coach Eddie Jones.Credit:Getty
Eddie Jones. Sacked as England rugby coach 10 months before the World Cup, despite having the most winning record in English rugby history, of about 72 per cent. As ever, Eddie simply wore them out.
A-League. Resumes this weekend, not that you knew it was on hiatus.
BBL. Starts next Tuesday. Be still, my beating heart.
RIP Nick Bollettieri. The renowned tennis coach passed away aged 91.
Nathan Lyon. Come in spinner, and have a lie-down. He now has the eighth most Test wickets of all time.
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