Support: Brett Holman signs an autograph for a young fan at Jubilee Oval, Kogarah. Photo: Janie BarrettIf there is one nation, among 209 that begin World Cup qualification every four years, that understands how cruel, unfair and downright painful campaigns can be, it is Australia.
This is why for the game on Tuesday night against a team that is out of contention, the Socceroos need to use only the history of their game, their shirt, their struggle as motivation to ensure they perform as though their lives depended on it, irrespective of opposition.
Iraq are extremely dangerous. Any team that has nothing to gain also has nothing to lose. Much of a football match is defined by a desire to avoid defeat, whereas Iraq will come only to win. Experienced players will not be present, but we can expect youngsters to outperform in their national shirt. They are a more threatening team than Jordan, despite their table position, so great respect has to be paid.
With this in mind, there can be nothing but intense concentration, regardless of the opponent or situation, because our game has fought too long, and too hard, for anything else to be acceptable.
Those new to the game, including a great number who will pack into Homebush on Tuesday evening, have never lived through the lean years, the constant build-up and letdown, the resignation to another four years of waiting, and hoping.
Now, in just a few days, Australia have the chance to finish the Cup campaign emphatically – having meandered for much of the past year in uncertainty – and avoid the roulette wheel of an Asian and South American play-off.
Only the more weathered faces in the stadium will remember the North Korea series in ’65, Israel in ’69, Scotland in ’85, and Argentina in ’93 (with a heartbreaking, deflected goal away in Buenos Aires being all that separated the team from an appearance in the US).
The horrible Iran series in ’97, and Uruguay in 2001, are all filed away in the Australian football consciousness and can be called upon to ensure that each time we enter such a situation, there is an understanding that football gives nothing for free, that everything must be earned.
Nothing can ever be taken for granted.
Australia famously took 32 years to achieve their second appearance in Germany and, having gone from famine to feast four years later, must avoid thinking they deserve to be there without proving their right.
Everyone will be needed. Every fan is part of our shared, national target, everyone in the stadium can help get the boys over the line and every voice will be required to create an atmosphere so intense, so focused on achieving our great aim, that none can escape with the points that the Socceroos require.
Not one of us can think we are already there. No player, no fan, and we all need to arrive on Tuesday night ready to fight until the last moment for our position in Brazil, whatever happens.
So, when the boys take the field against Iraq, they should remember every player who came before them and never had the life-changing opportunity to play in a World Cup, those who fought for the game during the dark years and who paved the way for today’s champions to have this chance to create history.
The only way to honour the game and their brothers, way back to the first national football team in 1922, is to play this game as if it’s their last, and to get the job done. Not for themselves, but for football.
Twitter – @Craig_Foster
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.