Thursday, June 22, 2006

World Cup Post #8

Socceroos v Croatia preview - Cool heads the key factor
Tony Tannous in Stuttgart

ONLY 24 hours till Australia's second round destiny is decided and Stuttgart is rocking with anxiety and expectation. Baring a Japan miracle against Brazil, all eyes will be on this encounter, to see who joins the world champs in the knockouts.

A healthy contingent of Croats now call this city home, and walking around the Schlossplatz, where the Stuttgart Fan Base has been set up, you sense us Australians will be outnumbered in the stands.

But, in Munich, the Australian fans proved that power of numbers counts for little, most of the time out partying the Brazilians, if such is thing is possible.

In what is sure to be a physical and passionate affair, particularly given the nationalistic link between the squads, you sense the team that stays coolest will prevail.

Both sets of fans are hoping and praying it will be their team, but neither is parading the streets in hostile expectation it will be thier side. There is a certain calm before the storm. Both realise this is going to be a tight contest, and the Socceroos will need to demonstrate everything Hiddink has instilled in them over the past 12 or so months - movement, tactical control, discipline and, above all else, calm - if they are to make this phenomenal world cup journey even more successful than it has already been.

If the Socceroos are defeated tomorrow, this shouldn't be seen as a tragedy. The Socceroos are in their first world cup in 32 years, and high quality performances against Japan and Brazil have made the world sit up and take notice. Germans, Brazilians, Mexicans and Swedes alike have largely been glowing in their assessment of our side.

Speak to cab drivers, oppossing fans on the streets and in the beer gardens and the picture emerges of a growing respect for our national team.

They realise we are young, in footballing terms, but they also respect the way we have gone about the task, full of belief, purpose, drive and that one characteristic that has impressed them the most, a never say die mentality.

Deep down you sense they are expecting us to fall at this final hurdle, sighting the experience of the Croatians in recent major tournaments, but when you mention the man behind the Socceroos ship, Hiddink, the ears prick.

Croatia do have the advantage of experience, which, at a tournament like this, when the crunch games are on, counts for a lot, as people here are quick to remind you, but the Socceroos do have a couple of trumps of their own.

Firstly, Hiddink is the man for an occasion, particularly given his recent experience with this tournament, but the big question is whether the players can deal with the occasion. We are about to find out.

Secondly, the Socceroos are in pole position, knowing a draw will be sufficient, but Hiddink will be clever not to play solely for a draw. That would be risky. If the Socceroos can score first, the pressure shifts to Croatia, and Australia can hit them on the counter.

If Croatia open the scoring, they have a strong defence that will try and defend the lead. One can see why cool heads are needed.

The first goal is crucial and if the Socceroos can get it, the pressure might be too much for Croatia, particularly given they have yet to open their account.

While the Socceroos are already heros regardless of this result, a draw or win tomorrow would top a cake that already tastes so sweet.


Anonymous Guido said...

I agree with you that whatever happens tomorrow how Australia has played in this tournament has been fantastic both for the team itself, but more importantly for the sport in this country.

The worst possible result would have been a loss to Japan which with the (almost) inevitable loss to Brasil would have meant that the campaign would have fizzled.

Instead we had drama galore. The extraordinary end to the Japan game, and the Harry Kewell dispute with Merk meant that football was on the front pages and talked about for days. And now we have this crescendo for this crucial match which has the same feel as a grand final.

It could not have been better scripted.

I wish the Australian National Football team the best result they can achieve.

Whatever happen I for one will always remember Germany 2006 as one of the sporting highlights of Australia.

Thu. Jun. 22, 11:50:00 am AEST  
Anonymous John Byrne said...

Hey Tony, loving the blog. Great work. Despite the amount of web coverage of the World Cup, it always makes it a bit more interesting when you know you're hearing from someone you know personally, who is there.

We're all pretty revved up over here. I'm not sure if you've seen any coverage from back here but there's been some massive turn-outs at live sites around the country. I'll probably head down to Circular Quay for the 5.00am local time Australia vs. Croatia clash. I tell you what, if we draw or win, I think it might have to be a self-imposed "socceroo jersey" mufti day (if I actually make it in to work).

The boys are doing a great job, as long as they don't let any cracks open up and stay disciplined.

All the best to you and especially to our boys doing it tough on the world stage.

Thu. Jun. 22, 01:00:00 pm AEST  

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