Ah, the semi-dead rubber. That is, it was a dead rubber for the Socceroos, but for the visiting Saudis, there was everything at stake - they needed to win. I suppose there was some incentive for our side as well - apart from fringe players seeking to impress, it'd be fair to say that if there was one team that we'd rather not progress to the next stage, it'd be the Saudis, rather than Oman or Thailand.
Quite a decent crowd in attendance, about 25,000 people, quite good for such an occasion with a kickoff also pushed back an hour - on a school night! Plenty of kids in the crowd, too. If there was a rule about no club colours, it didn't get through to some. I had my South beanie on, and while most of the crowd were arrayed in some sort of green and/or gold merchandise, there were the usual suspects in their club tops, both A-League and overseas.
Credit to the bloke with the vintage Manchester City shirt with Danny Tiatto's name on the back. That was one bloke who'd obviously been following that team before City's Arab ship came in, when they were a team that went up and down several divisions and were just another side of no consequence. Speaking of Danny Tiatto, he was awarded some sort of accolade at half time, but the only club mentioned was his junior side Bulleen. A shame, as that Melbourne Knights side he was such a crucial leg chopping part of, was probably the best Aussie club team I've ever seen.
The Green and Gold Army may just as well have not been there for most of the match. I was in the corner about a bay across from them, and barely a peep was heard from their direction until Archie Thompson got some sort of whisper in his ear while he was warming up in the first half, and then nothing again really until we scored that barrage of goals at the end. They were put to shame by the Saudi away end (though really, it should be Saudi away corner, as they were shoved into the metaphorical crawl space on the Yarra side of the stadium). At least the Saudis had an excuse for eventually losing their voice - their team got done like a dinner.
At least the Mexican wave and Aussie, Aussie, Aussie chants didn't come in until the very end. I felt also that the crowd couldn't read the game. Fair enough, they booed what they considered were soft fouls, the occasional milking of a foul and the obligatory rolling on the ground. But we've been in Asia for something like 5-6 years now? Time to just get used to it, maybe even play along with it. Me and Gains were just laughing at both the Saudi antics and the crowd's reaction. The WWE should look into marketing to this crowd, they fell for that heel routine like nobody's business. The absolute best moment was when the Saudi player felled himself on the verge of halftime, when they were 2-1 up. Out comes the stretcher, eventually - of course within ten seconds of being stretchered off, the bloke gets up. Crowd goes nuts. Classic stuff.
Rudimentary clearances and interceptions were being cheered like it was Simon Prestigiacomo making a last ditch spoil on Warren Treadrea in his prime after Presti's deceptive closing speed made up a five metre gap. Case in point - David Carney came on late, had the ball kicked into him in a failed attempt to dribble past him, and the bloke behind me burst out with 'classy stuff, Dave!'. Indeed every player was a champion to this bloke. No questioning of the need to play a bunch of 30 year olds, or why Mark Schwartzer flew halfway around the world for his match, or why we played with four centrebacks, why we couldn't figure out the Saudis' fairly obvious plan for most of the match, why we couldn't hit a five metre pass etc. That's not to say that the Socceroos didn't improve as the game wore on, and the stereotypically mentally fragile Saudis collapsed in tremendous fashion. And it was nice to be at an exciting and entertaining national team fixture - thanks for nothing, Pim.
Still, as entertaining as the game was, crowd watching was still just as good. There was the bloke with the A3 sheet of paper with Arabic text scrawled in permanent marker. Not sure if his message got on screen. There was the young woman with the dyed blonde hair and tight shorts, wearing a Saudi flag around her shoulders - good thing there were no mutaween there. And then there was was the bloke with the modern Iraqi flag, who seemed to enjoy the win more on two fronts. They may have got rid of the sectarianism that held the national league back, but its heartbeat is still kicking on at some level in the present. Which is more than can be said for Richmond station, which had no electricity in its station building before kickoff and was still pitch black at 11pm.
|Iraq! Iraq! Ma-ke-do-ni-a! This fan got two wins for the price of one. Photo: Gains.|