Tuesday, June 27, 2006

COMMENT: Australian football at crossroads following exit to "questionable" penalty

You only hope the nature of Australia's second-round exit at the World Cup doesn’t undo the sport's previous fortnight of unprecedented progress.

For the duration of the group matches, the Australian public - passionately behind their new football heroes - turned a blind eye to the sorts of controversy which dog any sporting contest.

The unsportsmanlike nudge on goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer against Japan was all but forgotten as the final analysis centred on two-goal Tim Cahill.

Likewise, English referee Graham Poll's disastrous handling of their clash with Croatia took a back seat to 'King Harry' Kewell's moment of redemption ten minutes from time.

But being on the wrong end of a marginal decision against the Italians in the second round - and losing - was too much for some Australian commentators.

"They didn’t want us there anyway," screamed one, calling into question why Australia should wish to be involved in a sport so palpably corrupt in any case.

Others, horribly, started to tenuously link the Serie A match-rigging accusations to Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo's decision to penalise Lucas Neill for a trip on Fabio Grosso.

Then even former bus driver Scott Chipperfield hit a chord with sections of the public so versed in sporting dominance.

"They look after the big nations, they want the big nations through to the semis and finals. It's always the way," the Australian midfielder said in the post-match furore.

Meanwhile, Australia's assistant coach Graham Arnold also chimed in with another piece of skulduggery.

"We're a small footballing nation that gets no favours. All we asked for was a fair go and I don't think we received it over the four games," Arnold said.

"From the sideline and what we saw on TV, it was a joke," he added in reference to the award of the 94th minute spot-kick.

In reality, though, Neill will forever rue his decision to attempt to slide tackle the rampaging Grosso so late in the day.

Then, after missing the Italian with his first try, leaning back to cause an obstruction big enough to tempt a tired player to fall to earth.

Passionate followers know too well that on such fine margins the beautiful game is often decided.

The problem comes when a fragile support becomes bemused with how a match can hinge on the smallest of external factors.

Australian sports fans welcome the fervour, the colour and even the skill of our football heroes.

But seeing the national team lose when a more cunning opponent influences the officials remains a bitter pill to swallow.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

Australian Soccer News

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