Well whichever side of the fence you were watching the game from it must be said that it was a helluva night; and before the plethora of Argentine supporters say anything I wish to make it known that while I like to think that I am fair in my assessment, there will be some bias towards Australia in this article. If you can't handle that then you seem to be missing the point.
I had intended to post an article just before I left to go to the match, but extro had passed out and didn't regain conciousness until later that day. Most of the news in that post will be incorporated into this one.
I left my front door adorned with Australia's jungle strip, a flag turned cape and my German team tracksuit pants. In my 10 minute walk to the railway station no fewer than 6 people offered their support, 2 of which proceeded to offer me money for my ticket. Many more stared at me as I made my pilgrimage as the wind billowed around the flag tied around my neck. The time I spent at the pinball parlours waiting for my friends was no let up to the questions and support.
We approached the Stadium and could hear the buzz of the crowd from afar, there was over an hour to go before match time and the carpark was already full and as I picked up my match programme my innerds tied thenselves into knots with the mixture of anticipation and anxiety I was feeling. The Argentine fans had taken up position opposite the tunnel entrance while the most vociferous Australian support was to be found under the large screen scoreboard, just next to where I was sitting. The view of the field was not brilliant, but the atmosphere more than made up for it. Argentina had apparently made a brief appearance just after the gates had opened to acknowledge their fans, something I missed. Australia came on a little later for some warm up drills, Argentina didn't bother with any of that.
Applause rang out over the ground as the Aussies went through their drills, Mark Bosnich gave a little wave to the crowd behind the goal and was warmly accepted, the past forgotten. You'll never walk alone, Waltzing Matilda and the more traditional Here we go all got some airing in between the chants of Aussie and Socceroos. A rather pesky little Argentinian supporter behind me felt it neccessary to add 'sucks' to every cry of Aussie which went up. The sort of negative thing one tends to expect from these football 'fans', didn't seem to suffice just cheering his side. Eventually he realised he was being badly drowned out and gave up.
The wave also got going in the prematch atmosphere, after a few failed attempts it neatly made its way around the stadium, with much booing and hissing as it passed through the Argentine supporters.
The teams lined up like this :
Australia : Mark Bosnich (3 caps, age 21, currently with Aston Villa) Milan Ivanovic (21, 32, Adelaide City) Mehmet Durakovic (29, 28, South Melbourne) Alex Tobin (34, 27, Adelaide City) Tony Vidmar (11, 23, Adelaide City) Jason van Blerk (16, 25, Go Ahead Eagles) Robbie Slater (11, 29, RC Lens) Paul Wade (63, 30, South Melbourne) Captain Ned Zelic (12, 23, Borussia Dortmund) Aurelio Vidmar (11, 26, KSV Waregem) Graham Arnold (44, 30, RC Liege) Argentina : Sergio Goycochea (40 caps, age 30, currently with River Plate) Jorge Borelli (11, 28, Racing Club) Sergio Vasquez (22, 28, Universidad Catolica) Jose Chamot (0, 24, Foggia) Carlos MacAllister (0, 25, Boca Juniors) Hugo Perez (0, 24, Indepediente) Fernando Redondo (15, 24, Tenerife) Jose Basualdo (27, 30, Velez Sarsfield) Diego Maradona (81, 33, Newell's Old Boys) Captain Gabriel Batistuta (25, 24, Fiorentina) Abel Balbo (10, 27, AS Roma)
Referee : Sandor Puhl (Hungary) Linesmen : S. Marton, L Varga (both Hungary) Crowd : 43,967 (Ground, that's *GROUND*, Record)
A loud cheeer accompanied every name of the Australian squad as it was read out over the PA system and their entrance saw some very effective green and yellow smoke bombs. The Australian anthem was sung by just about every Aussie in the place and it really set the scene for the game. Fireworks over and Sandor got us underway.
Almost from the kickoff Australia regained the ball and got a free kick near the touchline, several touches later Jason van Blerk decided to try for the glory goal and spooned the ball over the bar. Before I knew it we were coming at the Argies again and got a corner. Barely two minutes later Robbie Slater had released Graham Arnold whose cross was kicked over the goal line (and fairly close to the goal) by the Argentine defense. Corner number two, cleared safely once more.
Argentina weren't going to take this lying down and soon enough van Blerk had to ensure that Maradona didn't get to the ball at the side of the panalty box as a free kick was hoofed forward.
Ned Zelic tried his luck early when he tried to shoot for goal but didn't have enough force on the ball to make my granny save the shot, it was casually picked up and dropped as Goycochea bumped into Aurelio Vidmar who was hoping for a spill off the shot. Nothing much happened eventhough Sergio wanted a free kick. Actually Sergio wasn't taking his own goal kicks, is that the norm for him or is he carrying a strain of some sort?
Soon after Balbo showed his class has he raided down the right and won a corner off his marker van Blerk. Maradona took the corner but it was headed away by Aurelio Vidmar. It was around this time that a chant of 'boring' went up around the ground when Argentina relied on the boot the ball tactics. Australia were hustling well and it looked like Argentina were not exactly expecting it like this.
Australia got a good chance at goal when Jason van Blerk crossed the ball inside and was met by Graham Arnold. However Arnold was tightly marked by Sergio Vasquez and Goycochea was well placed if the shot hadn't been too high. Soon after another close call for Argentina when Aurelio passed towards his brother across the penalty box only to see it cross the goal line before Tony could get there.
So far Paul Wade had been keeping Maradona relatively quiet, and Australia were managing to hold on to the ball and pass it around looking for an opening and were doing well when Argentina had possession. Robbie Slater was doing particulary well at this stage which he showed as he took the ball from about half way and ran at the defense but his shot was weakened as it coincided with MacAllisters lunging tackle.
Batistuta showed he was well aware of Bosnich's excursions when he immediately shot for goal at the halfway mark when he gained possession. The shot was a little wayward though and did not trouble Mark, but showed that you can never let up on these guys 'cos they'll get you.
Worryingly too Argentina were beginning the 'funny stuff' with Batistuta getting very theatrical and Redondo putting a cynical bodycheck on Slater which might have been yellow card material. Of course this turn of events allowed us to use the scorecards which one of our friends had brought along for these inevitable dives. They were roundly appreciated by the entire crowd, Batistuta got a cumulative 22.6 (max 29.7) for that effort.
Australia's best chance of the half came when Redondo was dispossessed by Zelic just outside the box and Slater and Arnold were ready to pounce, a slight moment of indecision allowed Borelli to come on the scene and Graham Arnold's shot was wide, and a little weak also but better placement could have seen Australia go one up.
Australia too were not shying away from their defensive duties, Paul Wade and Maradona ended up in a heap when Wade had gone for the ball&leg tackle. Both players seemed slightly bemused by their final position, and there seemed to be no animosity.
There was a period of end to end stuff, Australia probably having the better of it although that's very subjective. Maradona had been showing some very nice skills, and some good distribution but was well marked...until the 37th minute. Maradona scrambled for the ball and van Blerk and Ivanovic in turn both failed to regain the ball. Maradona steadied on the right flank and sent a pinpoint pass onto Balbo's head with his left foot. Balbo didn't let his side down and eventhough Alex Tobin was giving him a hard time he put the ball only cms inside the near post, past a diving Bosnich. Argentina 1-0 and 37 minutes gone, the Argentine supporters were delirious and who could blame them, it was a great goal set up by Maradona. I was pretty pissed off though.
In the past Australia would have said 'Oh well we held them out for 37 minutes, that's our job done', but not this time. It only took another 5 minutes for Australia to reply with the equaliser, scored right in front of me. Some passing at the right corner of the Argentine box from a throw in saw Ned Zelic end up with the ball who measured a pass over the top of the defense to Tony Vidmar who was making a run. Tony then drove the ball across the goal for his brother who angled the ball past the keeper into the far corner. Cue crowd.
I can't really recall what happened for the next few minutes but when I came to I was standing on my seat and waving my flag. I think was screaming something. Pretty soon afterwards Maradona was taking a corner so I thought I'd better get serious again. Just as well too because although the corner was cleared without too many concerns the ball came back up the other end and Zelic passed the ball to an unmarked Arnold. The linesman indicated offside but damnit Argentinas No14 was marking Aurelio Vidmar at the other side of the field and Arnold was ONSIDE!!! There must be a FIFA mafia at work here :-) just kidding folks, we're not whingers.
Australia were riding high on confidence and attacking like mad. Eddie was going off his head on the sideline telling his charges to settle down. After 3-4 minutes of time added on half time was called, and the crowd applauded their team off the field.
A funny thing happened after halftime, just as play was about to resume the light swent out. Zap! The players went back into the dressing room and for a few minutes (about 10 I'd say) the only light came from sparklers held up by the Argentine and Australian supporters, and a flare in the crowd of Australian supporters which they tried to throw onto the field. Unfortunately the arm wasn't strong enough, and it landed in the crowd, I don't think anybody was hurt but that was more by luck than by planning.
As the lights, which apparently were victims of a power surge, slowly restored themselves the crowd played throws with the cameraman in the scoreboard. Eventually thoughts of a replay, or a default, were vanquished as the second half resumed.
What I really hate is that Australia play well for 50-60 minutes and then stuff up, as they did against Canada for example. Well they did this time also. Whether it was the unusually long break or increased Argentinian effort, maybe signs of tiring, whatever, Australia just got too cute with the ball, they gave the ball away cheaply, and allowed Argentina too much posession.
Maybe 5 minutes into the restart a pass found Batistuta in the clear and only scrambling defense stopped him from curling the ball over the keeper. Maradona took the ensuing corner which went straight to Bosnich.
Aurelio Vidmar then fouled Perez just outside (well better than inside) the Aussie penalty area, and was lucky not to be carded. However my main concern was that Maradona loves this sort of stuff and I feared seeing the ball appear from behind the wall and drop into goal. Fortunately the excellent chip which found Balbo and was heeled across goal found only Aussie defenders.
Just after that Slater and Perez had words about Perez's tackle on Slater and Mr Puhl promptly booked both players. At the time I thought that this was Slater's second yellow, but apparently this is not the case. Phew! Australia were not entirely out of the game however, Arnold had a shot similar to Vidmars goalgetting cross blocked and seconds later Paul Wade struck an absolute bullet headed straight for goal before it was deflected for a corner by Basualdos outstretched leg.
Not to be outdone Batistuta tried a bicycle kick off a throw in only to see it bounce straight into Bosnich's chest. A near thing. Aurelio Vidmar was then denied by Goycochea after another pass from his brother. However the angle was tight and someone would have needed to be at the far post.
Carlos MacAllister then showed by he is regarded as something of a tough type when he elbowed Graham Arnold in the face. Didn't get booked for it but when he tried to hack down Slater soon afterwards he did get the booking he richly deserved. Meanwhile Maradona was getting treatment on his back after he had fallen awkardly.
Australia got a free kick from a Balbo foul on Vidmar just outside the box, but made a complete meal of it. MacAllister was more aware of what was going on and broke away, fell, and was damn lucky when he held onto the ball as he fell to the ground. Apparently the referee agreeed that Australia had committed a foul and awarded the free kick. Otherwise an intentional handball might have been in order.
From there the match pretty much degenerated. At the 70 minute mark Jose Basulado was forced to come off the field from an injury and was replaced by Gustavi Zapata. Then Australia sent on David Mitchell for Tony Vidmar, this was a tactical change designed to extract a win from a match almost doomed to end in a draw by now.
David Mitchells first contribution was to shouldercharge Vazquez and get a yellow card. This rashness may have been influenced by the effect Carlos MacAllister was having, but Mitchell has not refined his violence to that level. Just to show that we can be 'professional' too a shot by Batistuta was going wide but Bosnich glanced it slightly with his arm, when the question of whether it was a corner or not Bosnich protested that he hadn't touched the ball a goal kick was awarded. I always liked that boy :-).
Abel Balbo then milked for time by feigning injury, and although Sandor Puhl wasn't taking it he failed to show a yellow card. Argentina then wasted even more time when they substituted him with defender Fernando Caceres. The 1-1, though not spectacular at least suited them.
Australia then fired their last shot in anger as Slaters cross came to van Blerk after a poor clearance and the shot sailed high over the crossbar. Actually Robbie Slater managed to get another cross in which went for a corner. The interesting thing was that Maradona berated the referee for not seeing a handball (As Ariel would say, the irony was delicious). The mass of players under the ball would have made it impossible to tell whether a handball had occurred anyway. However Maradona's persistence earned him a yellow card. Ha ha. The corner itself was wasted by Australia.
Three minutes of time added on and the game was over.
OK folks, Australia will win the second leg.
Just as I was getting home from the game the promised rain began to fall, just a little, a dampening sort of rain.
The newspapers seem quite divided on the merits of the draw. Some are happy to have kept the 'mighty' Argentina to parity, others sense that this result is totally useless for the second leg. Alfio Basile has apparently kept his job so the AFA probably isn't too upset either. The players exchanged shirts, except for Maradona who settled for congratulations of sorts to his 'shadow' Paul Wade.
Alfio said after the match "I have not seen this sort of speed from many teams in the world" of Australia, and added "I was also told the Australian public was cold. My players really felt the pressure tonight". Asked whether he feared the Aussies he said "I don't fear them but now I have more respect respect them yes". He also found time to compliment Paul Wade's efforts at marking Maradona saying "he did it fairly". He also said that that he believed the Australian goal came on an offside but upon seeing the replay admitted he was wrong.
Eddie Thomson still believes Australia have a chance. "The American dream is far from over. We are not out of this fight yet." and added "it's definitely not mission impossible". "We made one mistake tonight [I think there were a couple of others myself] and we got punished. And away from home we are a better team on the break. And we'll have Frank Farina. His pace and strength will cause them problems". However he admitted being a little displeased at the result but said "how can anyone knock the quality of football we served up and my players stuck it out?".
Two points of interest for the superstitious amongst you. In Australias Olympic efforts we needed to beat the Netherlands and drew the first game 1-1 in Sydney. We won the second game 2-2 aet. Nobody expected us to win those games either, actually we didn't but we qualified. Also the last time Australia qualified in 1974 England didn't get to the finals. Do-do-do-do do-do-do-do.
The referee was good. He showed authority and though one or two decisions could have gone a little differently there were no glaring errors as far as I could see. See you on the 17th, well it'll be the 18th here but you know what I mean.
Thomas the Tank Engine aka Algor +------------------------------------+-------------------------------------+ | Email : firstname.lastname@example.org | The only way to deal with temptation| | or email@example.com| is to give in to it. | +------------------------------------+-------------------------------------+