Wednesday, June 14, 2006

They still call Kaiserslautern home

Its early doors. Barely four days in and this World Cup has already exploded into life. After many of the big guns such as Argentina, Netherlands, Mexico, Germany and even England have all started with wins. And yesterday's games were all of the highest quality. Two more big names, Italy and Czech Republic, set out their stall with excellent wins in a tough group. Both sides scored glorious goals and in Tomas Rosicky, the Czechs have a potential player of the tournament. And at 40/1 and with 2 goals already in the bank, he represents great value for the top scorer award, the “Golden Shoe” (surely they mean Golden Boot, given that a golden shoe is more like something Cinderella would wear?)

But it was the Australia-Japan game which took the plaudits for sheer drama. Woolly Days watched the game in the packed confines of the Pig & Whistle pub in Riverside in central Brisbane. The 3pm Kaiserslautern kickoff time meant an 11pm start in Brisbane. The pub started packing up after nine but with plenty of bars and a plethora of big screens to choose from, a good viewing spot wasn’t difficult. We must have been at the away end as there was a decent scattering of blue-clad Japanese around our TV. Many fans wore Australian shirts with a picture of the late Johnny Warren and his apparent mantra “I told you so.” SBS also have those four words as a backdrop to their Sydney set, and Woolly Days for one doesn’t like the arrogance and smarminess of the sentiments. Though it has to be said that Warren, a key player in the only previous Australian side to qualify for the World Cup in 1974, does have the right to be a little condescending to the doubters of Australian football.

Anyway, as 11pm approached the tensions increased in the pub. The SBS football pundits were talking up Australia’s chances. The magic of ‘Aussie Goos’ Hiddink was mentioned. Here was the man who ended 32 years of qualifying pain. But he has made a strange choice when the teams are announced. Tim Cahill is not in the starting eleven. Luke Wilkshire of English third tier team Bristol City is in instead. Let’s hope Guus knows what he’s doing. They cross to the stadium. Noisy and very colourful. Lots of Japanese in blue and Australians in green and gold.

Fill up with more beer just prior to kickoff. Jenny Craig have stated they are worried that men with turn to a high fat diet of beer, chips and pizza during the world cup. Health problems are a small price to pay for taking part in the carnival of nations. They’re off. Australia’s first world cup finals game in 32 years. They take a while to settle, Japan look quick and agile early. Japan wins a free kick on the edge of the Aussie box. Jesus, are they going one down in the first two minutes? Thankfully the wall does its job. After six minutes, Viduka has a double chance which forces two saves from keeper Kawaguchi. This is more like it.

The play is fast, very fast, given the 30 degree conditions. Viduka does a beautiful back heel jink to send the hero of Uruguay, Marco Bresciano, through on goal but Marco’s sidefoot shot isn’t strong enough to beat the keeper. A minute later, Japan scores. Unbelievable. A harmless cross floated in by Nakamura. It should be Schwarzer’s but the ball sails over his head as he falls out of the way and gently nestles in an empty net. What??? Replays show that Schwarzer was bundled out of the way by a Japanese player. Given that the Egyptian ref has already given two soft free kicks at corners when the goalkeeper is barely touched, it is impossible to believe he has left this one go. But he has. Japan 1, Australia 0. Hiddink is incensed. And one stage it looks as if he is having a heart attack on the sideline, as he is bent over double. But perhaps he is just giving the fourth official a free dramatic interpretation of the foul on Schwarzer. From the kickoff after the goal, Kewell - minus his two ponytails - bursts through forcefully and his vicious shot is barely a whisker away from being an immediate equaliser. Harry looks so much better with a hair cut.

Half time. Its 1-0. The Japanese in the pub are very happy and jumping around. The Aussies are going to the bar and grumbling about effing Egyptian refs. What do they know about football in Egypt? Bloody bunch of pyramid sellers. The goal doesn’t look any better on endless replay. Second half is underway. The breakneck pace has slowed down. Australia are struggling to refind their first half rhythm. Finally, Tim Cahill is brought on, Bresciano is off. Schwarzer almost blunders again, he rushes out of his area but heads the ball straight to a Japanese player. Luckily they also stuff it up. Six foot five forward and Jason Gillespie doppelganger Josh Kennedy comes on for defender Craig Moore. Poker-faced Hiddink has started to gamble. Kennedy is making himself awkward and causing trouble. Viduka blasts a great free kick but is splendidly saved. Last sub Aloisi is on for Wilkshire and is booked after just two minutes work.

84 minutes in and another free kick. This time Aloisi blasts it and the keeper makes another fine save. Its just not going to be Australia’s night. Ok, says a mate, so we lose this and then lose to Brazil, can we still qualify with only a win v Croatia? While we work out the maths, Kennedy is causing grief in the air again. The ball falls loose to Cahill and Timmy blasts home the equaliser. Yeeeaaas! The pub goes berserk. They’ve nicked a well deserved draw. Bloody Hell, Cahill then almost immediately undoes his good work by giving away a penalty when he hauls down a Jap-in-the-box. Luckily the ref point to the corner flag not the penalty spot. Just love those Egyptian referees! Then the aptly named Fukunishi prises open the Aussie defence and misses by inches. The heart just can’t stand up to this. Back come Australia. Here’s Cahill again…Cahill…Cahill….Yeeeeeeeaaaaaassss! he’s scored. 2-1. Two for Cahill. A stunning hit from the edge of the box in off both posts. Beer is flying everywhere. Australia are ahead with one minute to go!

Japan are all over the place. Aloisi has the ball, Viduka is ahead of him but offside. Who needs Viduka, Aloisi skips past the defender and slots it in the corner. 92 minutes and its 3-1. The game has been turned on its head. Beer has been spilled over my head. I don’t care. Grown men with mortgages and ulcers are jumping around and hugging complete strangers. Its all over. Australia 3, Japan 1. A scoreline impossible to imagine just 10 minutes ago.

The pub is awash with spilt beers, teary-eyed drunks and hoarse out-of-key singing. Bedlam had nothing on this place. Cheeky Australia have grabbed victory from the jowels of defeat to the Japanese. Changi is revenged. Australia are on the football map. Bring on Brazil!

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