Football is not the most popular sport in Australia, but now the Socceroos are Asian champions the players believe the game will continue to grow…
Australia’s Asian Cup triumph was historic in its own right – being the first major title the Socceroos have picked up – and the 2-1 extra-time win over South Korea on Saturday night could have far wider implications for football in the country. Tim Cahill was full of pride aboyt that fact post-match.
“It’s just a sweet feeling to know that people are going to have to jump on the bandwagon now – they’ve got no choice,” the former Everton man told journalists. “We know the people that love football and the people that don’t love football. But tonight is one of the biggest moments in sport for Australia, because this is an Asian tournament that is so difficult to win.”
It is unclear who exactly Cahill was railing against, but as with Japan where baseball still reigns supreme, football is not the number one sport Down Under. Rival codes Australian Rules and Rugby League still receive the majority of fans and media attention, while the likes of cricket and tennis – when in town, as was the case with the Australia Open in Melbourne – also often take precedence over football.
Jason Davidson also felt that the success would enable the next steps to be made for a sport that is gradually establishing itself in its nation’s consciousness.
“Qualifying for consecutive World Cups [has] helped the team grow, and I think tonight the team gave a different aspect in the Asian Cup – having success on home soil,” the West Bromwich Albion full-back – attired in a green and gold wig, Australian flag and scarf, and holding an inflatable kangaroo – told me after the win over Korea.
“I think that definitely will help grow Australian football. You saw tonight how many passionate Socceroos supporters were out there and definitely the sport’s growing. It’s only going one way and that’s upwards.”
Ki Sung-yeung, captain of the vanquished South Korean team, was magnanimous in defeat, and having spent time in Australia as a youngster offered a balanced perspective on how far the game has travelled – choosing to focus on the development in the on-pitch style.
“When I was in Australia 10 years ago, Australian football was not like this,” he said. “But when I played against them [today] they started to play football – not just long ball or physical, they are also really comfortable with the ball, they looked comfortable. So I think the manager is a very good manager. Because he teaches how to play football and they deserve to become champions.”
Cahill also expressed his respect for Postecoglou, in particular the way he had seamlessly integrated so many less experienced players into the national team. “I’m really proud of the boss, I’m proud of someone being Australian, of really having the passion to believe in the youngsters, to believe in the talent and to really take us to a different level.”
Davidson had perhaps the most productive last word, though, opting not to try and set football apart form the sports it is in competition with, but drawing all disciplines onto an equal footing.
“We dug deep. That’s what Australian footballers do – and Australian sportsmen and sportswomen do. We dig deep when we have to.”
That they did, and now they are reaping the rewards.