Monday, June 12, 2006

Big day for Green and Gold

Qualifying for the World Cup is no mean achievement for Australia, a country that doesn't quite have a great football tradition or culture, except among the many immigrant communities primarily around Sydney and to a lesser extent, Melbourne (admittedly, my expertise in the area is limited). The Socceroos did take the right step in hiring the vastly experienced and successful Guus Hiddink, no stranger to the big stage, after homegrown coach Frank Farina quit with elimination looming. To be honest, I was not particularly enamoured of that move, given that Hiddink was still dividing his time between PSV and the Socceroos. Australia took the most tortuous path to the finals, culminating in a penalty shoot out in a play-off against Uruguay. All that seems like ages ago. Now Viduka, Bresciano and Kewell are household names, and not just among the Greek or Croatian or Italian communities. No doubt the brains at Nike and others have recognised this opportunity and an airwaves assault has been underway on SBS, the free-to-air channel that has rights to the World Cup. News reports about the Socceroos have preposterously begun referring to them as the "Mighty" Socceroos. Trust commerical interests to ruin the moment. That Australia has been paired with Brazil has upped the anticipation levels, and if the Socceroos do not progress beyond the opening round, the television ratings are set to go through the roof tonight, when they face-off against Japan and then against Brazil. It has been amusing to see Melbourne trams painted Green and Gold, but exhorting 'Brasil'. Aussies, understandably, are still in awe of the South Americans (who isn't?). Unlike the football lovers of Kolkata or Kochi however, Australians have their own team in the fray, and needless to say the entire nation is ready to throw its weight behind the team. The A-league launched last year is still a fledgling operation, and former German mid-fielder Pierre Littbarski's exit in a huff from the coaching job at Sydney FC, the champions, indicates that it could all unravel easily. If the Socceroos put on a decent show or go further, there will be no looking back for Australian football. Some may argue that is already on an irreversible growth path. Nike should be happy. - NK


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