World Cup frenzy has permeated such a wide spectrum of the Australian community that even the Green Party have put out a media release saying they “will be supporting our home team and cheering every goal from Parliament next week.”
I’m in Canberra now for the next fortnight’s Senate sittings. As part of getting into the World Cup mood, a Parliamentary team is playing a game of soccer this evening against a Rest of the World team (more precisely a Japan/Brazil/Croatia XI to match our initial World Cup Group F opponents). Everyone will then gather at Parliament House to have dinner and watch the Socceroos first game against Japan on the television.
Over the last few years, I’ve managed to break my wrist in an MPs vs the media Australian Football game and needed 10 stiches for a head gash in an Australian MPs vs New Zealand MPs game of rugby. However, the last time I played one of these types of games, I managed to escape unscathed, so hopefully my run of injuries is over.
For what it’s worth, my feeling is that the Australians have a good chance of progressing at least to the second round of the World Cup, and possible one more round beyond that. The team definitely looks more solid and organised, although I thought they were lucky to get away with a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands. However, you make your own luck as the (somewhat simplistic) sporting cliche goes , (or as golfer Gary Player said, ‘the more you practise, the luckier you get’). You do need to have a bit of luck to progress at the World Cup, but Australian soccer has had its share of bad luck in the past, and I think that’s due to turn for the better.
Having said that, I have to say I do find soccer less interesting to watch than any other code of football. I’ve always watched all types of footy, but I grew up with the rugby codes and to a lesser extent Australian football, and have developed a definite preference for the latter over the last ten years or so. I’ve tried to get in to soccer too, and highlights packages are usually good. But even though the World Cup brings its own atmosphere as a major Event, which helps add interest, there still seems to be too much of ‘a whole lot of not very much going on’ in the average game of soccer for me to ever get hooked on the sport.
And while I’m having a whinge, the things that really irritate me about soccer are penalty kicks and (to a lesser extent) the offside rule. In a game where 2 goals is considered good, to give a team a free shot at goal just because a foul has happened in the penalty area seems grossly disproportionate. If they only awarded a penalty when a foul stopped an otherwise almost definite goal it may be OK, (like the penalty try provision in rugby union and league), but when a team can win a game 1-0 or 2-1 on a penalty (which is often a disputable decision anyway), it detracts a lot from the contest for me. Being able to decide a result – including the World Cup itself – on a penalty shoot-out is also very unsatisfactory.
I can understand the rationale for the offside rule, but I don’t think it works well in practice. It is very hard for the naked eye to judge offside correctly, so legitmate goals are often disallowed, and vice versa (which again is particularly frustrating for a game where a 1-0 result is commonplace). I’d like to see them try the Australian football approach of scrapping offside all together, although it’s hard to know for sure how well it would work until people tried it, and I realise that it would be such a huge change, require major adjustment, so it’s never giong to happen.