Australia fans applaud their team at the end of the 2014 World Cup Brazil Group B match between Australia and Netherlands.
Tim Cahill and Australia embody a spirit that cannot be bottled in sport. They might no longer be a viable prospect to reach the last 16 of these World Cup finals, but they should feel no shame with the level of performances they have contributed in narrow defeats to technically superior sides in Chile and the Netherlands.
The 3-2 defeat to Louis van Gaal's Dutch side in Porto Alegre was particularly galling having constructed a 2-1 lead early in the second half against a team fresh from flogging Spain 5-1 in their opening Group B match.
Raw spirit, organisation and a healthy attitude to the task only takes you so far in football with crucial individual errors proving Australia's undoing at key moments after another absorbing contest that could have fallen either way. The Dutch probably merited the three points, but Van Gaal's men really had to scrap to emerge victorious from an afternoon that had seemed mandatory beforehand.
Australia have the consolation of being party to the greatest goal in the history of the Socceroos. It was not the most important goal, but was utterly glorious in its execution. Australia will depart these finals boasting the finest goal of the tournament, a stunning effort from the evergreen Tim Cahill that will be shown again and again years and years from now.
It has been compared to the fabled Marco van Basten volley slammed into the old USSR's net in the 1988 European Championship final. That is how eye-catching it was. It was not as narrow an angle as Van Basten's effort, but for technique it was every bit as potent.
Especially when Cahill had to see it coming over his right shoulder with a longish diagonal ball before sending a searing volley high over a bamboozled Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with his left foot. Cahill likes to celebrate these goals by doing a bit of a sparring with a corner flag, but sadly it was not a knockout blow.
It only enabled Australia to restore parity a minute after Arjen Robben had scored. The excellent Mile Jedinak allowed Ange Postecoglou's team to briefly dream when he converted a penalty on 53 minutes after Daryl Janmaat was harshly deemed to have handled Oliver Bozanic's cross in the area.
The Dutch were slightly dazed, but managed to level within four minutes when Robin van Versie thumped the ball high into the net from substitute Memphis Depay's pass with Jason Davidson playing Van Persie and Arjen Robben onside.
Australia almost moved 3-2 clear when Mathew Leckie chested the ball into the arms of Cillessen when any sort of boot would surely have gleaned them the lead. The Dutch promptly ran up the park with Depay - who had replaced the injured Bruno Martins Indi - unloading a shot from distance on 68 minutes that bounced beyond the Australia goalkeeper Maty Ryan, who should have kept the ball out.
It was a tough final act of the match for Australia to accept, but the Dutch will feel a sense of relief. They have scored eight goals in two matches, a total which is more than Spain helped themselves to when winning this tournament four years ago.
Cahill won his 70th cap here, but will be forced to sit out the final match of the group due to suspension. He should be content with the goals he scored against Chile and the Dutch, and the level of performance he has brought at the age of 34 in enhancing the standing of a young Australian team.
"Cahill has moved beyond them to become the all-time greatest," said an editorial in The Sydney Morning Herald this morning.
Football has come a long way in Australia since they reawakened a popularity in the sport that lay dormant for too long by reviving the domestic league, and moving to the Asian Football Confederation. In qualifying for the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups, football is only going to grow and grow Down Under.
— Eurosport.com EN (@EurosportCom_EN) June 18, 2014
Cahill is a very decent bloke. I remember interviewing him when he stepped off a plane at Sydney Airport for a friendly against Iraq in 2005. Football was the poor relation in Australia back then, left downtrodden by a local media addicted to promoting Rugby League and Aussie Rules Football at the expense of the world game.
They tried to portray football as a game for ruffians, imported by immigrants to the detriment of the indigenous Aussie sporting culture, but it has quickly become a game that speaks for the country's mentality to work hard and give of your best.
Australia have certainly managed such a feat at this tournament. It continues to be quite bewildering why the Aussies won't be hosting the 2022 World Cup finals ahead of Qatar.
FIFA missed a real opportunity not to leap on the bandwagon of Australia's growing passion for the round ball.
When the chance came to carry this tournament to wonderful cities with the correct infrastructure, size and investment that live and breathe sport such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, they instead opted to hand it to a place in the middle of the desert the size of Yorkshire, unsuitable on temperatures alone to stage the globe's biggest sports event in the summer.
Can you imagine Australia running out for a World Cup contest before a packed MCG with 100,000 watching? What a sight that would be. One to rival the Maracana.
If the Qatar bid founds to be built on the shifting sands of corruption and bribes, it may not be too late for Australia. Visitors would delight in a football party in that part of the world. But that is for another day.
For this World Cup it is time to take off the make up. All dreams must end. The party's over.
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- Tim Cahill
- World Cup finals