Was it at 1.00am, midnite or 11.00pm? In fact it was 10.50pm that Optus finally decided was the game start time. They even fired up the special sports event channel to show it, and I settled into the Bay23 sofa.
A bright sunny day, pathetic attendance, Aussie commentating, low class football and Slavic chanting. It could have been a Preston game in Melbourne circa 1991 but it was in fact Oz vs Macedonia in Skopje (sic?), 12 march 1997. El Tel's latest outing with a new group of far flung Aussies.
Despite the producer's efforts in displaying our commentator Paul Williams' name (as if he was there), Paul blew it by saying "the recent Optus Cup series that was played here...."). Nice one PW, we know you were watching the telly with the rest of us.
Our players were barely recognisable, theirs completely unknown. Although they did have a long haired guy called Markovski who was overweight and needed replacing two thirds into the match (hmmm, Jonesy with a wig?). Their anonymous types however, were a least a team and generally put the ball about rather well, at least rather better than our lot did. Our guys looked as if they had been sitting on a bench for the last six months. This was probably because, well, most of them HAD been sitting on a bench for the last six months. Being at a famous successful club doesnt automatically make you famous and successful, and I wonder if the pendulum has swung a little back to some of the local guys who after all are playing competitively and regularly.
In general, our play was stilted, not well executed and shit. Hundreds of passes went astray, and there was lots of backpassing with no ideas. There was the occasional touch of skill and after TV yelled for the hundreth time from the bench to get stuck in and forward, there were passages of play that improved through the first half. Things were not helped by the ref, from the Current Yugoslav. Republic of Yugoslavia (CYROY?), who despite the war etc thought "hell, we blokes should still stick together". He therefore penalised the Aussies for all manner of ridiculous things, breaking down play even further. Mind you, his failure to produce any cards helped Steve Horvat who committed a blantant professional foul in the second half, which would have earned a red from many refs.
Some stood out. Aloisi played pretty well, mind you he had a big incentive. After finally declaring for Australia ("he always did", says Dad Rocky), he must have wondered if he had done the right thing when surrounded by that mob. Horvat made some great tackles. Ned showed the occassional brilliant touch, demonstrating that if his brain and body could only come to some sort of arrangement, he could be world class. Bosnich made a few good saves but did some awfully dumb clearances as well. Others were less than impressive. Slater appeared only every now and then.
The goal? Well with one minute to go, a good header from A.Vidmar not well handled by the Mak keeper. Aurelio suffers from that striker's affliction that when he scores, he is far too good to be embraced and congratulated by his team mates. It didn't occur to him that apart from repeatedly whinging to the ref, he did little else for the rest of the game.
El Tel keeps his record intact, an uncommon win against Euro (!) opposition. I am no clearer as to who our first eleven are.
PS Will someone from Macedonia explain how "Australia" can possibly be spelt "Abc..etc" in any language format??? Cut to Macedonian TV producer's room.....
"Hey Darko, who we playin'?"
"How the hell do you spell that????"
"God knows, just use the first 3 letters of their alphabet and make the rest up. The punters will never notice..."