So I get myself to this midweek game at the football stadium more out of some sort of self imposed rule than any true desire to really want to see this game.
I know that's quite tragic but there you go. So I walk to the stadium after work and the first thing is to buy a ticket. Blammo! $30!! I mean how can you justify that? Anyway so I pay, then the programme. "Programme please". "$6". Blammo! Well thank you very much for ripping me off, it's been a pleasure. Then along comes a TV crew. "Mind if we talk to you?", "Yeah OK...". So this guy with a pommie accent starts by asking me how I feel about Australia missing out on the World Cup. Man they pose some tough questions don't they? Still I try to do an impression of a philosophical fan without being rude because I was raised that way. So the answer "How the fuck do you think I feel you stupid shit!" didn't actually get uttered. Meanwhile the cameraman was doing a pan of my Gonzoliga T-Shirt...well I suppose it looks nicer than my head.
Once inside the Koreans were practising on the pitch and there were more people on the pitch than in the stands. OK I was about 45mins early but still. Anyway anticipating a lifeless and dull match I get a seat in the vicinity of a monitor in one of the raised seating areas near the corner of the pitch so that I get at least all the angles of the match covered.
You can tell a lot from the way teams train. South Korea had groups of players doing drills and stretching exercises and they did this until 10 mins before kick off. Australia came out briefly in the hour before the game, just enough to warm up and get a feel of the conditions. Interpret this as you wish.
Still before kickoff a group of people who I assume were a family stroll past and pick a seat. One of them wore a shirt I am quite familiar with, infact I own one just like it. Nothing too unusual but this was the Eintracht Frankfurt shirt....the current one....from the second division. Small world ain't it. Although this last thing I will mention happened some way into the game (about 10 minutes in) it's better mentioned now. There was a couple of guys behind me who arrived just after kickoff and muttered a few words before tapping me on the shoulder and asking when the match kicked off. Having written it all down I said 7:35. This guy then showed me his pre-sold ticket which proclaimed an 8:00pm kickoff. Then I showed him my ticket bought at the door which had 7:30 printed on it. He stormed off at halftime looking to give someone a tonguelashing about this lack of organisation. He has every right.....it's disgraceful.
Well the match did actually happen and the early signs were pointing toward a 0-0 draw but South Korea had a brilliant chance to open the scoring 13 minutes in when a long drive from outside the area (and they had practiced these extensively before the game) by Jo hit the left upright of Petkovic's post and bounced straight back out and the followup header went straight at the keeper who gratefully stopped any change in score. It should be noted the goalposts at the SFS are not round but rectangular in cross section. I get the feeling a round post may have helped South Korea's cause.
Troy Halpin was doing good things for Australia in midfield and of the 'unusual' selections on the night his was the only one I saw as justified. Troy had Australia's first shot in anger but pulled his shot wide. Three minutes later in the 23rd of game time Abbas Saad did quite the opposite and put the low cross to his feet straight into the South Korean keepers arms with his instep. Sure Australia has a dearth of forward talent but I think we can do a bit better than Saad who is too old to be part of a long term plan and not good enough to include in the short term.
South Korea and Australia traded further attempts at goal, some closer than others and the chances evenly spread. However there was never the incisive pass or the clever play which afforded either team what could be called a presentable chance.
Even when the goal did come it was a bit fortunate. First because the player who made a hole in the defence (I think it was Emerton) was basically running with the ball and trying to stop himself from falling over which ended up a defence evading, jinking run when it was actually a "Oh-crap-I've-lost -my-balance-and-my-feet-keep-hitting-the-ball" run. Then the pass to Trajanovski was offside. I had no idea it felt so nice to score an offside goal, it was pretty close but it looked offside on the replays I saw on the monitor near me. Anyway Kris does the noble thing and passes to Tapai who is unmarked in front of goal, and onside. Tapai pokes the ball in.
For the remainder of the match the ground announcer insisted Kris Trajanovski had scored which was very unnerving because I was quite sure I had seen Tapai put it in but in the light of this announcer getting it wrong I had some doubts. I guess Tapai wearing 7 and Trajanovski 17 had something to do with it.
I had trouble recognising some players, Mark Babic in particular looked nothing like himself. At least not to me :-).
Korea almost hit back just before the break but a diving Petkovic palmed the ball away for a corner and halftime came.
There's an irritating tendency for halftime entertainment like a dance spectacular or a marching troupe...sometimes they have some kids play half pitch football which I quite like but this time they picked two kids out of the crowd to play a Sony PLaystation F1 game. For the record the kid with the Australian sounding name driving in a Ferrari was ahead of the kid with the Korean sounding name driving a Williams when time ran out. I'm rather hoping the Ferrari will finish ahead of the Williams in 3 weeks time...
Thee was ample opportunity for both sides to score in the second half, which made for some entertaining play but as usual the finishing was below par from Australia. Saad and Emerton both missed a good thing for another goal but at least Emerton was creating some play. The second half was also punctuated by numerous substitutions by both sides and you could tell the Koreans were getting a little pissed off about a string of free kicks to Australia and their own lack of penetration when it came to the put-ball-in-net routine. There was a late flurry from Korea but Australia had a chance or two to pick them off and Mendez and Markovski were doing some very nice things.
I have a lot of time for Mendez who was never the same after injuring his leg against Wollongong City about 2 seasons ago. I don't recall the player's name offhand but it was a pretty brutal tackle and a serious injury to one of the most skilful players we had at the time, perhaps this is still so. At any rate after 94-odd minutes the game came to an end and I went home pleased but not exactly excited by the win.
It would also be rude of me not to acknowledge the great support the South Koreans got from the ex-pats and visitors from that country in the crowd who had set up next to the players tunnel. The usual spot for the Australian support behind the goal at the scoreboard end were also there but heavily outnumbered and perhaps a little subdued. Can't blame them really, I know a few people who might normally have stood there but instead chose to sit elsewhere.
Next up Japan but the real interest lies in the future of Terry Venables and his role in the future of the Socceroos on the long, long road to the 2002 World Cup in which, I fear, we will have an even worse chance to qualify than for 1998 thanks to 2 Asian sides already qualified and taking spots from the pool Australia is involved in.