After the shock of being knocked out of the World Cup by Iran had sunk in, Terry Venables hinted that he is ready to return to club football following Australia's failure.
Since Venables took over in January the team has had 12 wins and two draws, both against Iran, but although Soccer Australia's chairman, David Hill, asked him to stay on beyond the World Cup finals, it seems unlikely.
"I'd like to win a championship," Venables said. "It's not an obsession but it could become one. It would be nice to work for a club that has the potential to win it. I'll spend the next few days deciding my future - if it's to be with Australia or somewhere else." Venables has already been offered three times his Australian salary to coach in Europe.
In the wake of the 2-2 draw that saw the Socceroos eliminated on away goals, he felt that lack of experience in top-class international tournaments was a factor in the way the side "got the wobbles" after Iran scored their first goal, and Hill agreed that the defeat showed the need for a tougher fixture programme.
"We will ask any continental federation - be it Europe, South America or Concacaf - if they will have us," Hill said. "We will tout around. I will also be approaching Fifa to see if they can help us with this situation."
The dawning of a new day did not make elimination any easier for Venables and his team to bear. Though grinning manfully, Venables could scarcely comprehend how his team had played so imperiously for 70 minutes then conceded two goals in five minutes, being eliminated on away goals following the 1-1 draw in Tehran.
"I thought the best I'd seen was when England beat Holland 4-1 in the European Championship, but for 70 minutes last night I thought we were better than that," Venables said.
"I remember how Charlie Hughes [the FA's former director of coaching] used to say that if you had 10 shots on goal you would always win. We must have had 10 shots on goal."
Hill, a high-profile former managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and the man who hired Venables, is bound to come under attack himself. If the Soccer Australia delegates share the disillusionment, Hill's position, and the main support for Venables, could come under threat.
The bitter paradox is the fact that Australia's greatest disappointment in the sport emerged from what began as its greatest celebration. A noisy, colourful crowd of 85,000 had filled the Melbourne Cricket Ground - more than double the previous record for a soccer crowd in Australia - and Venables' team responded by playing the best football since he had taken over.
The striking combination of Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka, the supporting skills of Aurelio Vidmar and the surging runs of Stan Lazaridis all looked as if they might have troubled defences at next year's World Cup.
Australia should have buried Iran in the first 10 minutes, when Vidmar had three good chances and defenders saved on the line from Kewell and Craig Moore, the Rangers defender. Australia paid a dire penalty for squandering those early opportunities.
Even so, they reached the 70th minute two goals up, through goals from Kewell, after 31 minutes, and Vidmar, three minutes after half-time.
Up until then the Iranians had managed a shot, but in the space of five minutes, thanks to a momentary loss of concentration by the Australians, and combined work by Iran's three outstanding German-based players, Ali Daei, Khodadad Azizi and Karim Bagheri, they scored two goals.
Azizi, so dangerous in Tehran, showed that it only takes a second to change the course of a match. With the Australian defence ball-watching, he knocked the ball back from the goal-line (the Australians claimed he was offside) and Bagheri scored. Then Azizi took Daei's through- pass and slid the ball past Mark Bosnich.
"It's very difficult to describe how bad we felt last night," Australia's captain, Alex Tobin, one of the few home-based players, said. "All the players are dealing with the grief in their own way."
The 32-year-old Tobin, like several of the players, had seen his last chance to play in a World Cup evaporate. "We had so many chances and everyone played so well, that it's disappointing to have lost," he said.
Uppermost in people's minds was whether the advances since Venables' arrival would be lost. "I think the result could be devastating for the game in Australia, but I hope it's not," Tobin said. Two of the English- based players, Craig Foster and Robbie Slater, were equally grief-stricken. "It's an understatement to say we're shattered," Slater said. "It'll live with us for the rest of our lives."
There was some criticism that Venables had not put substitutes on as soon as Australia went 2-0 up, to maintain the momentum, and that the team had not then adopted more defensive tactics. "That's not the Australian way," Foster said proudly. "The best form of defence was attack."
"I feel sorry for the people who supported us," Slater said. "Now it's dead for four years."
Australia: Bosnich; Moore (Arnold, 83), Horvat, Tobin, Lazaridis, Slater (T Vidmar, 81); Foster, Zelic, A Vidmar (Tapai, 81); Kewell, Viduka.
Iran: Abedzadeh; Mahdavikia, Khakpour, Payravani, Estili, Bagheri, Shahroodi (Mansourian, 57), Pashazadeh, Saadavi (Tahami, 76; Asadi, 87), Azizi, Daei.
Referee: S Puhl (Hungary).Reuse content