Roos are ready to rock the old world

Hiddink instils self-belief and resolve in a team capturing the imagination of a nation
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion was a dangerous place for an Englishman to be on Thursday night, as the hapless Graham Poll almost demolished Anglo-Australian relations and Guus Hiddink's prospects of guiding a third thankful nation into the knockout stages of the World Cup. One Harry Kewell goal later, however, and - the Tring official apart - all was forgiven.

England supporters fortunate enough to witness Australia's stirring advance at the expense of Croatia were embraced like long-lost relatives as AC-DC anthems reverberated around the stadium where Sven Goran Eriksson's side will face Ecuador this afternoon. Tim Cahill broke away from the delirious celebrations on the running track behind one goal to exchange high fives with a group of Evertonians he had spotted in the crowd. When he returned, he was wearing a royal blue No 17 jersey with his name on it rather than the golden No 4 in which he had just produced such an influential display.

Cahill's trademark goal celebration - where he throws a combination of punches at a corner flag - has been adopted with relish by an Australian support that has graced this tournament and will be appearing all over Germany with their inflatable kangaroos longer than anticipated. Qualification from a formidable group in which they were the one team without World Cup experience - the nervous goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac was the only member of Thursday's starting XI born when Australia made their only previous appearance, at the 1974 finals - has captivated a proud sporting nation. With future qualification based on success in the Asian confederation rather than a play-off with the fifth-best team in South America, the Socceroos are promoting a cultural shift back home.

"It's just amazing for Australian soccer," Cahill said. "We've rocked the nation and we'll probably rock the world." The Everton midfielder added: "I was standing there at the end of the game looking at our fans with feelings of sheer emotion, feelings of sheer joy. A feeling this is what we deserve. We've worked very hard to get here and we're not here to make up the numbers."

Hiddink has spoken of leaving a legacy with this success whereby home-grown coaches and the Australian national league prosper from the game's rising popularity. Blackburn Rovers' Lucas Neill, who is enjoying an outstanding competition at centre-half, said: "We didn't know what to expect. Nobody in our era has ever been to a World Cup, and what's happening back home is unbelievable; 60,000 people got up at five in the morning in Melbourne to watch us. There was another 50,000 in Sydney and another 50,000 in Brisbane, and support in all the other big cities. It's early in the morning there and it [getting up] will be killing people, but I don't think too many people will be going to work now, it'll be barbies and beers everywhere."

Australia's success is yet another rich chapter in the career of the Dutch coach Hiddink, overlooked by the Football Assoc-iation in their search for Eriks-son's successor and contracted to start work on revitalising Russia's international fortunes once his involvement in Germany is over. "The manager is a great man and a great tactician," added Neill. "Before the game, he has the questions the opposition are going to ask and he has the answers. He paints pictures, paints scenarios and it's just a matter of communicating from the sidelines when he needs to change things.

"Before the game, he says: 'If that happens we do this'. We went a goal down in the very first minute against Croatia and we changed things. We work on what we do if we go a goal down, a goal up... he paints all the pictures.

"So I go out and feel there's nothing to worry about, because I know all the scenarios and I know how to deal with them." Contrast that with the panic that spreads through Eriksson's England the moment a game changes course.

And so now to Kaiserslautern and Italy on Tuesday. The cultural ties so evident against Croatia will be in evidence again against Marcello Lippi's men - both of midfielder John Aloisi's parents are Italian - and Hiddink will once again be prepared.

"We'll respect them, they're Italy," admitted Cahill. "But the question is, can they beat us?"

Comments