‘Unbelievable Win for the Socceroos’ was how Michael Lynch of the SMH expressed it, and unbelievable was the exact word on my lips too when Tim Cahill’s shot crashed off the post and back into the net, making the score 2-1. We couldn’t find the game on any of our 35 TV chanels, so my sons and I watched it in the Sherlock Holmes Pub (13th District, Budapest). The only other person in the room was Nathan from Mudgeeraba, Qld; I only realised he was Australian when the equaliser was scored and he leapt up and punched the ceiling.
I’ll leave the expert technical analysis to the Stephen Hills of this world, except to note that I was heavily struck by the contrast in the styles of the two sides. Japan had no midfield game. They would launch a terrifying blitzkrieg in the Australian half, and then ten seconds later there they were, all eleven of them, defending their fort like the British riflemen at Rorke’s Drift. The Socceroos, by contrast, were all playing midfield and none of them had time to either defend or attack properly – at least so it seemed, until the unbelievable happened. Hungarian TV didn’t show the stats, but I reckon Australia had 75 percent of possession.
It reminded me of the Clash of the Disciplines between Muhammad Ali and Kannji Antonio Inoki, back in 1976. I half expected the referee to call the game off, on the grounds that the teams were playing different sports. By the end of the match the Australian style was vindicated threefold. But a very short time earlier – in the eighty-third minute – that conclusion hadn’t been so obvious to me. Nor to the hapless girls in the top picture.