Australians gutted about World Cup defeat

27th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

27 June 2006, SYDNEY - A nation accustomed to cheering invincible sporting teams was inconsolable Tuesday after Italy bundled Australia out of its first World Cup finals in 32 years with the very last kick of a tense match in Kaiserslautern that ended 1-0.

27 June 2006

SYDNEY - A nation accustomed to cheering invincible sporting teams was inconsolable Tuesday after Italy bundled Australia out of its first World Cup finals in 32 years with the very last kick of a tense match in Kaiserslautern that ended 1-0.

Parents stayed in bed and children skipped school as mass depression took hold after two weeks of daydreaming about Matilda waltzing off with the World Cup.

"I'm broken-hearted," a grave Prime Minister John Howard told his countrymen. "It's a very cruel way to lose, right on the knocker like that, but the team just played so bravely the whole match." Howard is one of millions of Australians recently baptized into the football faith.

"To hold the Italians to 93 minutes without them scoring a goal, and then to have a penalty right on the knocker, that's about as tough and as disappointing as you can get," the dejected prime minister said.

Howard's heartbreak was evident in a country where an astonishing 2.2 million of the 20 million population stayed up until the wee hours to watch the Socceroos try and get beyond the final 16. It was national broadcaster SBS's biggest audience since the tournament started and signalled the coming of age of the round ball game in Australia.

Jessica Carbone, one of an estimated 30,000 who had packed outdoor sites in chilly midwinter Melbourne to watch the big game, was crestfallen when substitute Francesco Totti slotted the ball into Mark Schwarzer's net to send her team homeward bound.

"I just feel robbed, I feel cheated, Australia had more possession, Australia played a better game," she told Australia's AAP news agency.

The fans were dashed - and so were the players. "We are really gutted," Australian Football Federation chief executive John O'Neil said in Kaiserslautern. "Sport can be very cruel, but today it was excruciatingly cruel. The dressing room was incredibly sad, lots of tears."

For captain Mark Viduka and several veteran Socceroos the loss against Italy signifies a last World Cup appearance. They will be too old for South Africa in 2010. The team has also lost its coach, Dutch master Guus Hiddink, who moves to the Russian bench.

In the dressing rooms in Kaiserslautern, as O'Neill attested, there was very little stomach for August's Asian Cup preliminary round match against Kuwait.

Many Australians were livid about the injury-time spot-kick awarded to Italy by Luis Medina Cantalejo, the Spanish referee and which gifted the Italians victory against the Socceroos.

Prime Minister John Howard dispensed with diplomatic niceties and blasted the decision as "pretty debatable."

Opposition Labor Party leader Kim Beazley was more direct, alleging Caltalejo wilfully snuffed out a nation's dream of progressing in its first World Cup finals appearance since 1974.

"We was robbed, no doubt about that," Beazley harrumphed.

His sentiments were echoed by millions of Australian fans - and by those in earshot of his whistle on Monday when Lucas Neill tackled Fabio Grosso.

Midfielder Tim Cahill told reporters in Kaiserslautern: "We're in disbelief because anyone who watched the game could see that it wasn't a penalty. I'm furious. It's unbelievable. Everybody says 'well done, Australia's played well, pat on the back, you've proved everyone wrong' but we haven't. We should still be in this World Cup."

John O'Neill said the 92nd-minute penalty was the cruellest blow imaginable.

He told Australia's ABC Radio after the game: "Having spent a bit of time talking to the players, their own inner belief and their own resolve was such that they thought they had the better of Italy today, and could have been playing in the quarter-finals in four days' time against the Ukraine, and then, based on form, could have beaten the Ukraine and been in the semi-finals."

But the whistle blew, the penalty was converted - and the green and gold were over and out.

DPA with Expatica

Subject: German news

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