The Group of Death might have killed off the Socceroos’ World Cup hopes but Australian football is alive and well based on the performance against the Netherlands.
Tim Cahill is the epitome of all that is great about Australian football with such tenacity and competitiveness coupled with great ability – his spectacular volley could be the goal of the tournament.
But this was far more than a one-man show with unforgettable performances right across the park. Even fans of other countries would have admired the performance of our young stars.
They were thrown in at the deep end and did not sink, as many people feared. They played with hunger and desire and gave the Dutch an almighty scare.
Heading into the game, Australia’s track record against the Dutch – we had never lost to them - was better than any other country in the tournament but few people expected such an exceptional performance this time.
Missing Mark Milligan and Ivan Franjic, who both featured against Chile, coach Ange Postecoglou started with the 11 who had finished the first match and the response was superb.
Tactically, Australia was very well set up and it had a major influence on the game. The defensive unit from front to back was much tighter and provided the pressure to stop the Dutch from playing.
The Netherlands even resorted to playing the long ball and playing on the counter attack - which is how international pundits had been expecting Australia to play. As a consequence, Australia was in good areas when they won the ball back.
The addition of Matt McKay added energy and probably better-complemented captain Mile Jedinak in midfield, allowing the Socceroos to get forward in numbers.
Australia dominated their more fancied opponents and looked anything but underdogs.
Even after the Dutch had scored against the run of play – a potential killer blow – the Socceroos responded instantly through Cahill, whose goal will be replayed over and over again on TV and in the school grounds around the country as youngsters attempt to emulate their hero.
Had Mark Bresciano and Matt Spiranovic taken earlier chances, the Dutch would have been staring down the barrel of defeat.
Unfortunately, individual errors proved to be Australia’s undoing. Every time we have made a mistake we have been punished, which can be expected at international level.
The Socceroos even had an opportunity to go 3-2 up but lacked the final ball from Tommy Oar and just moments later the Netherlands were in front again. Australia had all the play and created all the chances up until they were chasing the game at the death and only then were susceptible to the counter.
But regardless of the result, these players have written another great chapter for Australian football and, on a personal level, put their names in front of scouts and officials from the world’s top clubs
It could even turn out to be the year a new “golden generation” emerges
Matthew Spiranovic has been touted as the central defensive heir apparent and his performance against the Netherlands was his coming of age. We have all been very aware of his ability but against the Dutch he was world class. Tactically, he was superb and very composed and could have been a product of the Dutch system.
In an attacking sense, Matthew Leckie was fantastic again and was a threat every time he went near the ball.
In fact, there were so many performances to whet the appetite for a future, which, after all the doom and gloom, is now shining brightly.