There's a lot to be said for the benefits of football as far as the fan is concerned. To the players, I imagine, things are a lot different. As with all of us once our passion becomes our job the whole matrix changes and suddenly there are serious real-world implications, like food and shelter. To the fan the food and shelter is taken care of by other means. This affords him (or her) a great deal of freedom to invest maximum emotional currency in the outcome and machinations of 22 grown men kick some inflated leather around a park. The only thing those 22 guys will agree on is that the 23rd guy is a fucking moron.
The power of the game is such that the entire globe will tune in to watch a tournament involving just 32 of the many hundreds of nations comprising our corner of the galaxy. This, in turn, makes the prize of being one of those 32 countries a very desirable one indeed. Australia has not won that prize since 32 years, when there were only half the places.
As this match approaches I naturally go through the previous encounters Australia have had at this stage of the qualifying. Uruguay 4 years ago, Iran 8, Argentina 12, 16 years ago Australia didn't quite make it this far and prior to that Scotland blocked Australia's hopes. That is my personal timeline.. others I know have suffered longer. Every disappointment eventually heals but never cleanly, everytime the scab is opened there is more trepidation. With trepidation comes caution, fear of having my heart broken once again and I think even the non-football loving public (who probably won't read this) know what I mean, if not understand, leads me to begin thinking pessimistically.
I know well enough any decent side can beat another on a given day. That's why the game is played in the first place. However the more you invest the more you lose and things like a solid 5-0 thrashing of Jamaica stand there inviting me to lose my head and start thinking Australia will be playing in Germany next June (and maybe even July).
Uruguay are a formidable side, hardened by a long qualification and a sense of history which instils belief and burden in equal measures. They have some handy players too, which helps. The sense of history also includes Australia last time we qualified. Prior to going to the world cup Luis Garisto basically assulted Ray Baartz in a friendly match. Ray never made it to the 3 matches later that year. I won't try to be corny and say that I hope Australia do it for Ray. Hell I don't even want them to do it for them, I want them to qualify for me!
Basically as I write this prior to kick off I know deep down that Uruguay deserve the favouritism they seem to be largely enjoying and I know Australia have a chance to beat them, but I won't allow myself to embrace the possibility lest it stab me in the back... again.
At any rate at the end of this match sitting in front of the TV I'll still not know for sure because this time the second leg is in Australia.. in Sydney. The decider was played in Melbourne for Iran... and Scotland... hmm... well maybe, as with the sucession of Olympic bids for 1992 (Brisbane), 1996 (Melbourne) and 2000 (Sydney), it will be Sydney which brings home the overall win.
The match included Kewell from the start which was somewhat unexpected considering his recent injuries and lack of match fitness. Desperate times, desperate measures.
The match started with Uruguay playing on emotion and it was gratifying to see Australia settle things down in the first 5 minutes without falling behind. Infact it was Australia who posted the fist two corners with some half chances before a free kick to Mark Viduka was fisted away by Carini. That ball was travelling rapidly...
Just on 15 minutes a Recoba free kick took some interesting deflections before ending up in Schwarzer's grateful arms. Richard Morales had an arm around him in the penalty box which he hoped to draw attention to by falling down. It didn't help.
Diego Forlan, though starting the match, apparently was injured and after only 18 minutes was replaced. It seems there's at least one gambit that didn't pay off for Uruguay.
Speaking of gambits Alvaro Recoba was also doing his bit, falling down in the vicinity of a yellow shirt and taking the resulting free kick forcing Mark Schwarzer into a save.
Dario Silva managed to earn the honour of the first yellow card for a tackle on Scott Chipperfield after 23 minutes and Australia, though not actually producing a shot on target, played well enough to earn yet another corner. Australia leading 3-0 on that count.
It was after that that Carlos Diogo managed to get a free header from a Recoba corner when I first gulped to prevent an ill feeling. Thankfully the header was weak and Schwarzer alert. After this hiccup Uruguay sensed opportunity and followed with a period of pressure on the Australians where their earlier composure showed signs of cracking.
Dario Silva managed to get Scott Chipperfield a yellow card to level that particular score... but with a third of the match played it was not clear which side would prevail. This of course meant I was feeling pretty good about Australia getting something out of this game.
Of course once you start entertaining such thoughts bad things happen and a Recoba free kick from a Chipperfield foul gave Dario Rodriguez the chance to put a powerful header into the back of the net. Rodriguez benefitting from a late run which wasn't picked up... sigh! This not only made Uruguay understandably happy but brought the crowd into play. They had been remarkably quiet until that point, and with the exception of the start of the match didn't seem to make much noise at all.
Silva was startig to make a lot of trouble... earning free kicks and an a run down the right resulting in a looping cross that Schwarzer only just managed to get a flapping hand to to prevent the ball reaching the intended targets beyond the far post.
With only an extra minute the first half came to a close with Uruguay playing like a side knowing being a goal ahead is a good thing and it seemed to give them a self-belief they were lacking before. Australia could use a good pep talk and while taking a 1-0 loss home isn't the worst thing in the world, Uruguay proved that 4 years ago, they could count themselves unlucky to be in this position.
Australia started the second half fairly brightly, having been made to wait for Uruguay to come back on the field. For their part Uruguay seemed to adopt a suck it and see approach and who could blame them. When they got the chance they broke with speed and patiently waited to stop Australia's build ups. Though there were no halftime substitutions Marco Bresciano was warming up early and Archie Thompson made way on 52 minutes.
Things got kind of hairy after that. Lopez and Grella needed some medical attention, a handball against Bresciano was turned down but seemed to have been worth asking for. It was all a bit messy and I don't quite know if that was positive for Australia or not. Bresciano had a nice looking shot at goal too.. missed, but looked quite stylish. I like style. Of course I'd settle for a brutishly ugly goal too.
On the hour mark Diogo threatened an ugly goal from another Recoba free kick. The ball lifting over the bar after it akwardly came off his shin. That was nothing compared to the deep seated sense of injustice the Uruguayans would feel after that man Recoba was through on the keeper and Schwarzer came out and dangled his foot towards the ball for Recoba to fall over. There was some conjecture about whether there was any contact or not. The referee thought not (in both Schwarzer on ball and Schwarzer on Recoba) and pointed for a goal kick.
Soon after Uruguay made their two remaining substitutes and buckled up for the ride home.
With shadows lengthening across the pitch both sides redoubled their respective efforts to ensure the best possible outcome for their respective sides. With 18 minutes to go a tackle which earned Vidmar a yellow card and Recoba yet another free kick turned out to be not very dangerous. The point is that Uruguay were suddenly made of fine porcelain and collapsed at the merest touch. The amount of force required was inversely proportional to the distance from the Australian goal.
Uruguay had two very good opportunities in this stretch. One a Recoba free kick which only needed a touch to avoid Schwarzer, who did well to anticipate none, and another a messy affair with Morales' back to goal mad scrambled away before Uruguay doubled their advantage.
Just after Culina's shot wide of goal it was the ever toiling captain Viduka who made way for John Aloisi. Uruguay kept making chances, certainly more than Australia and certainly better ones. It was getting to the stage where you hoped more it stayed 1-0 because it seemed any change in scoreline was unlikely to favour Australia.
After Australia managed to weather the 90 minutes only to find there were 4 more to go. It was hard work.. Uruguay were really going all out to get the second goal and were comforted that their own goal was only under sporadic attack. In the end it is my belief Uruguay were deserving winners on the balance of play and Australia did well (or were lucky depending on how you choose to see it) to keep the score to 1-0.
Can they score 2 at home to go through?