Ah you know there is such a thing as destiny. Maybe it's little more than a convergence of events drawing one another in like a coin in one of those funnel things you see at shoping centres to collect for charities. You know eventually it will fall into the hole but the entertainment is in watching it get there.
So here we have the Oceania Nations Cup and World Cup qualifiers all rolled up into one, hosted in cold Adelaide in Winter and really it would be so much easier to just write in "Australia" and "New Zealand" as the group winners.
Of course you play the games, and after all bar one of the matches Australia are through already and New Zealand and the Solomon Islands are level in second place, the Kiwis ahead on goal difference. The Solomons need a draw or better to progress.
Now I've already heard New Zealand fans put forth conspiracy theories about Australia throwing the game, the sad thing is that as dire as the game was from the 11 men in white (yeah.. I know) I think the Aussies really were trying..
The first half was fairly pedestrian. Not a great deal was being done by either side. I would call it an extended training run. Australias movment forward was a mixture of ill directed through balls and over the top balls finding players in offside positions.
For the entire half Australia managed to get 2 shots on goal. They were exremely good shots requiring very good saves from the Solomons keeper. To his credit those saves were made. The Solomons, for their part, had many more shots at goal, but there really aren't any I can recall which needed any intervention. Infact in most cases intervention would have required a keeper of otherworldly dimensions.
The level of play was so uninspiring a local wag made the following 2 suggestions I would like to repeat for you here.
"Hey Frank (Farina), talk to the other guy. He's got ideas."
"Hey Frank, this is why nobody's turning up."
The attendance was, of course, dismal. I don't believe it is difficult to "sell" football to an Australian audience generally, but the general lack of understanding of the meaning of the matches is harder to overcome. How is the game against Turkey meaningless in the greater scheme of things but costs over $90 to attend but this series (at barely over $10) is the World Cup preliminary series. It's another argument.
As a result of these matches New Zealand is now planning their 2010 campaign for South Africa. Crazy days.
Anyway the sense was that the Solomons were doing well to hold on and to make things very uncomfortable did a little better and managed to score a beautiful goal through Menapi who whacked the ball past a beaten Kalac from a defensive error. Just before the end of the half too, a really nice way to make it hurt.
It stunned me and I expect some of the Aussie players as well, because they almost equalised before the whistle in a flurry of panic. It basically proved to me, and everyone watching, that their hearts had not been in it and while I wish to give the Solomons players all the credit they deserve the match could have been Australia's.
Whatever Frank said to the team at halftime had quite an effect because for about 8 minutes they played like a team whose lives depended on winning. The 3 halftime substitutions might have had something to do with it as well and even the goals they scored smacked of desperation.
No glorious left foot drives bulging the net in an unerring display of grace and power. No sir. A scrambling effort, the ball bouncing everywhere, who cares who put it in, it's in! That was the equaliser. The second goal not long after was touched by the keeper looking to push it out but it stubbornly rolled across the line.
At that stage you started to get the feeling the Solomons were going to give up and more goals would follow. However their resolve was being shaken, not broken. I should have remembered their pre-match huddle ending in a shout so resonant... well the result was set there really.
Australia did occasionally threaten a third but somehow the collective Socceroos fell back on old ways and were happy with the lead and the score.
So now what?
Why not have Kisnorbo sent off? Brilliant! Inexperienced defence, all 3 subs already made and get a defender sent off. THe only thing I am unsure about was the reason for the send off. The tackle was certainly worthy of a card. I winced and the player hurt wasn't in a hurry to get up for what I would say were legitimate reasons. However Kisnorbo was either unconvinced or upset, either way he pushed the player who was curled up on the ground (head on knees, arse in the air, hands clutching leg) over. The card was either his second yellow already or his actions were petulant enough to warrant a bye-bye. [Update : yeah it was a second yellow..] Anyway he really wasn't doing a lot for the team but his absence would hurt Australia a lot more.
The balance of play ended up favouring the Solomons and, since you could argue it was doing that before the send off anyway, you got the feeling that perhaps they might just sneak another goal. All the while the other half of the brain is telling you that Australia had conceded 2 goals in their 5 matches and one of them was just before halftime.
Commins Menapi, who is, or at least was, playing in the Australian National League came to the party, he squeezed the ball past the keeper on a tight angle from the left side after it was played to him from the right.
The crazy thing is that after the goal the Solomons came about 2 feet away from a winner, keeper beaten. Then in the last seconds of the match a afree kick directly in front was gratefully received by Kalac.
At the final whistle the Solomons bench cleared and the scenes of jubilation were something to behold. It's the reason we don't just write in the names of the teams we think will win. The boys danced, knelt in a circle, ran to either side of the field, hand joined and revelled in the well deserved applause. I had a look for the Australians but they'd all disappeared already.
Next time the teams meet the situation will be very different, but Australia is 4 games away from World Cup qualification and 2 of those games are against the Solomon Islands.