For the Socceroos it’s a case of ‘what if?’

24 June 2010

Written by: Evan Harding

You’ve heard it once or twice before. ‘Hindsight is a beautiful thing,’ or ‘hindsight is 20-20.’

The Socceroos will look back at their 2010 World Cup campaign with plenty of unanswerable questions, despite the fact they matched their 2006 efforts in finishing the group stage with four points.

What if Tim Cahill had played against Ghana? What if Harry Kewell and Craig Moore had played against Serbia? What if they had come out and played aggressively from the get-go against in that final match? What if Mark Schwarzer hadn’t fumbled and let Marko Pantelić pick up the crumbs for an easy goal?

But the following question is the one that will continue to be asked and pondered over during the next few weeks: What if the Socceroos had actually believed that we could beat the Germans in their first game?

Australia was bundled out of the World Cup earlier this morning despite a 2-1 victory over the Serbs. It was a gutsy, gritty and determined performance but one that was left far too late.

So much of sport is played between the ears. It is all about your attitude to the contest and the belief you have in yourself and your teammates. You might be hurting physically or have no energy left to exert, but when a team – or individual for that matter – has the mental edge and a bigger will to win, it already has a massive advantage.

The Socceroos went into their game with Germany – one of the biggest soccer powerhouses in Europe – with little to no belief that they could win. Even captain Lucas Neill all but conceded defeat before the match even began by saying, ‘a draw would be a fantastic result [because] Germany are a superior team to Australia.’

The Socceroos’ 4-0 defeat was embarrassing to say the least. They played negatively, almost hesitantly. They played that game as if they feared their opponents. It was as if a baby was trying to take its first steps of its life.

What was even more bewildering is that after looking at some of the other surprising results in the tournament so far, Australia had every right to feel confident about a victory.

Who would’ve thought that New Zealand would salvage a draw against Italy, or that Algeria would share points with England? How many people could have predicted Switzerland’s one-goal victory over pre-tournament favourites Spain?

The Socceroos had no reason to fear the Germans. The ingredients were certainly there on the field with players like Cahill, Kewell, Moore, Schwarzer, Scott Chipperfield, Lucas Neill and Brett Emerton – all world-class players. An entire nation was behind the team and the support for them over in South Africa was the equivalent of a home crowd advantage.

However you can’t expect a team to make up a four-goal difference in such a high-pressure tournament such as the World Cup. The Socceroos exposed themselves after that horrible loss to the Germans and it was always going to be an uphill battle from then on.

Let’s not take anything away from the final two performances against Ghana and Serbia. Coach Pim Verbeek seemed to have learned his lesson from the first game and made a few changes that seemed to work. And it always helps when players like Luke Wilkshire decide to stand up as well.

Australia’s slim hopes of progressing through to the next round sprung to life against Serbia when Cahill cleverly headed in a long cross from Scott Chipperfield at the 69-minute mark. Then just four minutes later, Holman scored his second goal for the tournament and probably the goal of his career with a sensational long-range strike to make it 2-0. Unfortunately, Pantelić pounced on a very rare Schwarzer fumble to bury Australia’s World Cup dreams.

It is always a terrible situation to be in when your fate lies in the hands of other teams or individual athletes. No matter what sport it is, to know that you can’t control your future is an extremely frustrating predicament.

The Socceroos’ 2010 campaign will always be known as a ‘what if’ campaign and one that we probably deserved more out of.