Culture

The Socceroos Didn’t Win The World Cup, But We’ve Won Something Better

Australia is a football nation.

Socceroos

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In the early hours of Sunday morning, Australia’s beloved Socceroos faced off against Argentina and arguably the world’s greatest footballer in a do-or-die World Cup game.

But despite an incredible final attempt from young gun Garang Kuol in the 96th minute, the boys were — sadly — unable to secure the crucial win.

While the squad are on their way back home without a World Cup in tow, the Socceroo’s efforts in Qatar will forever be known as a win for Australia, and for Australian football at large.

We Were A Bee’s Dick Away From Not Even Making It To Qatar

After our incredible feat in Qatar in recent weeks, it’s easy to forget how close we were to not even qualifying.

Since the glory days of 2006, Australia had qualified for every World Cup to date, but this year was tough. Like, really tough.

In fact, Australia copped one of the longest qualification campaigns in World Cup history after playing a mammoth 20 games in 1,000 days — all amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.

We didn’t make it through in the AFC qualification and even our final chance against Peru back in June came down to a penalty shoot-out that sent most of the nation — and Tony Armstrong — into absolute chaos mode after an incredible save from Grey Wiggle Andrew Redmayne — who almost quit the sport in favour of being a barista.

But although we eventually qualified, nobody in Australia seemed to think we stood any real chance of making it very far into the World Cup.

The 2022 Team Have Done What Only Our Greatest Players Have Ever Achieved Before

“WE’RE THROUGH!!!” – Tony Armstrong at Fed Square when Australia qualified for the World Cup in June.

If you’re not familiar with Australia’s football history, you’d be forgiven for not understanding why making it out of the first phase of the World Cup caused absolute pandemonium across the country. It’s actually only the second time in history that we’ve managed to do it.

The last time we managed to make it this far was in 2006, with a squad that included the likes of Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and John Aloisi. Those were the glory days — a time most football fans seem sceptical we could ever return to.

But while the players from the 2006 era will forever be synonymous with a golden age of football in Australia, I resent the notion that Craig Goodwin, Mathew Leckie, and Mitch Duke can’t follow suit.

We Didn’t Win, But We Still Proved Our Critics Wrong

Nobody (except a small group of diehard supporters who were convinced we’d win the whole thing) thought we stood a chance against Argentina — a team captained by treLionel Messi that has won two World Cups and has a red hot chance of this year taking home a third.

In the alternate universe where Garang Kuol’s last minute shot actually went in, we would’ve equalised. It was so close to happening that somebody turned it into a digital reality for us.

This is a testament to the talent of our team, and stands as living proof that Australia is, in fact, a football nation. We came up against one of the best teams in the world — a team that is worth an estimated $900 million, compared to our $58 million — and we held our own.

We Are A Football Nation

In his post-match interview, Australian midfielder Jackson Irvine was so overcome with emotion that he broke down in tears.

“It’s difficult to comprehend everything at the moment, it’s all quite raw, but yeah, I hope we made everyone proud,” said Irvine while burying his head in his hands.

When we lost against Argentina yesterday morning, I was reduced to tears. Not because of the defeat, but because of how far we came and how extremely proud I am of how far we came with — comparatively — so little.

In a follow-up interview, Irvine hoped that the campaign had reignited a love of football in this country, something that we’ve struggled to do since 2006.

β€œThere will be a time for us to look back, reflect and have a moment to see what we’ve done,” Irvine explained.

β€œHopefully we have reignited each other and Australian football. The future is so bright and I’m so proud to beΒ a part of this team.”

While the players and the results we’ve seen in Qatar are part of the equation, the real beauty of football in Australia is what we’ve seen on our own shores.

From Federation Square to Darling Harbour, to the families waking up their kids at the crack of dawn to watch the boys in green and gold give it their all, the country has rallied around football in a way we haven’t seen in over a decade.

People from all walks of life coming together, cheering in moments of joy and sharing a collective heartbreak in moments of defeat — all united by a love of football. It truly is a spectacular thing.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Critics have already penned countless opinion pieces doubting the future of football in this country, citing that the renewed love of the sport after 2006 was short-lived. But this time feels different.

We’ve got a Women’s World Cup in our own backyard in a little over six months with more fans connected to our players than ever before and — most importantly — we have the passion.

While football will likely never overtake the AFL or the NRL in this country, those codes aren’t bringing tens of thousands of people together in Federation Square at 2am, either. It’s just different.

That’s not to say we don’t have major hurdles to overcome — namely, the fact that junior football is prohibitively expensive in this country and kids are being turned away from the world’s game because they simply can’t afford it. But those are problems that have clear solutions and that can be addressed with some effort and investment from people with power.

And, quite frankly, those people can’t continue to ignore it when tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets to make their love of the game known.

But there’s one thing that money can’t buy: passion. And if the last few weeks of this World Cup campaign have taught us anything, it’s that Australia has a passion for football.

We now live in a world in which World Cup goal scorers are playing on our shores. You can literally buy a ticket to an Adelaide United A-League game and watch national hero Craig Goodwin every week. That’s something special, and that’s something Australians need to embrace.

The Socceroos may not have brought home a World Cup, but they’ve ignited a fire that we cannot let wane.


Lavender Baj is Junkee’s senior reporter and lover of all things football. You can find her tweeting too much about the Socceroos here.