Friday, June 16, 2006

COMMENT: Aussies jubilant but slim Brazil win highlights work ahead

Australia v Japan.
Australia, a nation so used to sporting conquest, can finally bask in the glory of their oft-downtrodden football heroes.

The Socceroos might not sound like a team to strike fear into the World Cup fraternity but they certainly looked the part during their record-breaking Group F opener against Japan on Monday night.

For so long, Australia's fate looked destined for disappointment after Mark Schwarzer misjudged a floater from Shunsuke Nakamura midway through the first-half.

But at the end of the day, literally, the national side finally, finally made their mark on football's premier event.

It took a nerve-jangling 84 minutes of the Japan clash - added to the 270 minutes from the fruitless 1974 jaunt in Germany - for the Aussies to eventually break their much-discussed goalscoring duck at the finals.

Then, rather like buses, another record fell around ten minutes later - an historic first-ever World Cup win was theirs too.

Guus Hiddink has rightfully been lauded by the local media for his inspired second-half introductions of goalscorers Tim Cahill and John Aloisi.

But much credit goes to Cahill's composure in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Kaiserslautern when he accepted the nation's burden and guided the ball past goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi with deadly aplomb.

Oh how the local broadcaster couldn’t wait to tell the dedicated souls who had stayed up the entire following night that Australia were atop the Group F table on goal difference from the mighty Brazil.

Quite right too.

But look hard enough and mixed in with the jubilance is a stark warning of the tough test lying ahead.

Brazil sneaked a 1-0 win but will surely never play with such half-heartedness again over the next month - especially against the Socceroos on June 18.

Meanwhile Croatia, driven forward by powerful displays from Babic and Prso, will hardly prove a pushover in the group decider.

Australia has one boot in the knockout stages - but to finish the job Hiddink needs improved displays from the likes of Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell and Marco Bresciano in the coming week.

Copyright © Marc Fox & Soccerphile.com

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