Saturday, January 31, 2015

Australia: 2015 Asian Cup Champions

If ever there was a strong case for more government funding for major football tournaments and the game itself, it was made last night by those 23 warriors dressed in gold who delivered Australia its first major men's football trophy in emphatic fashion against a worthy opponent and in a manner in which the whole nation can feel immensely proud.

1. Congratulations to Ange Postecoglou and the Socceroos players. They did what was asked and in a manner Australia is justifiably proud of.

Korea Republic brought something extra out of the team, which is what finals are about. If we could be guaranteed the win, we would have voted for extra time because it is in the expenditure of every resource, the straining of every sinew that great achievements are forged. From the goal-saving tackles by 'Prince Massimo' in the first half and Matt Spiranovic late in the game, to the beautiful turn by Tomi, the match ebbed and flowed as only epic football matches can, and Australia was a match for the moment.

Well done. Your place in history is assured, everyone who contributed;
2. We have long argued the national team does not belong to the players, but the country and that they must represent the nation well. Two things stand out in this regard. First, the Socceroos played in that most emblematic of Australian ways, hard but fair. At the same time as imposing themselves physically against a superb Korean team, they also took the time to shake hands, to pick the opponents up off the ground and to demonstrate how it is that we play sport. Captain Mile Jedinak gets special mention here. Tough, but sporting.
Second, to see the team pouring forward at 2-1 in front late in extra time is what Australia wants. In fact, Korea lost the game when it sat back in the first part of extra time, having got the tieing goal. 
3. On this, hopefully the argument is now settled for good. Many have argued we could not attack. We were too old, not good enough, blah, blah, blah. We always could, we have, and the trophy stands as testament to what can be achieved. After ten years of debates and fights on the issue, let us never step backwards again. Only in approaching the game in a consistent and representative way can we continue to be tested, to learn, develop, improve and reach the holy grail;
4. Further, the last year should also put to rest the debate on results, at both senior and youth level. Yes, we love to win, but all our national youth teams are learning to play and the benefits of this will be long lasting. Like the Socceroos, the short-term pain will see long-term gain. Every coach must be accountable for the performances and development of the team, but the fixation on only results should be behind us, thank god;
5. Also, plenty have resisted a National Curriculum, understandably since Aussies don’t like to be told anything about sport, but we just won the Asian Cup with the Curriculum. High pressing, winning ball back as quickly as possible, effective possession of the ball (meaning playing forward where possible), the 1-4-3-3 system of play. It’s all there. Hopefully, arguments are now at an end and we can move on to improving the national plan with everyone on board. There is a massive amount of work to do. Without complete integration from top to bottom, we beat ourselves before we begin. 

6. I have already congratulated Football Federation Australia for the vision to bid for the event, and a special thankyou to Julia and the Gillard Government for support of the Asian Cup. Kevin Rudd supported the World Cup bid, another bold decision that deserves credit and, at a time when football was under the pump from other sports with intense, internal lobbying to cut off the funding streams, Julia committed to this tournament, as did state governments. Time moves quickly, and people forget, but thanks to you and Kevin;
7. I speak for no one but myself, however, as a former Socceroos player I am fairly certain that I can say there are more than 500 of my brothers standing side by side to congratulate today's team. Each generation wants the next to go further, and all fought tooth and nail for the game. To see Prince Massimo, Timmy Cahill who, fittingly, passed the baton on departure, and the rest on the podium will have been an emotional moment for everyone who has worn the nation's shirt;
8. It is great to see the blanket coverage across Australian media this morning and, with respect to Australian Open tennis champion Serena Williams, it is ideal that this achievement occurred on its own so that the moment can be properly experienced. Having appeared throughout the tournament on Channel 9, with the blessing of SBS, it is wonderful to see the genuine joy and pride that the crew and on air staff felt as general sports fans. Step by step, Australia has come to know the incredible emotional ride that football delivers and why it is the most loved sport around the world. Like Uruguay in 2005, this game tested everyone to their limit and more and more Aussies will support, attend and play the game as a result;
9. Importantly, our message to those that loved last night is that there's plenty more where that came from. The A-League is back this weekend, so adopt your local team and join the party. It will take you places you have never been;
10. As we celebrate, be sure to immediately lift your eyes again because the never-ending journey goes on. This is just one stop on the stairway to football heaven. It is necessary to conquer Asia to prove ourselves and have any chance of progressing long-term, since Asia's performances in World Cups is still problematic. Next we need to take steps forward on the global stage. It is fabulous to see the optimism from the whole country this morning, and long may it last, but this game is like none other. Winning the Asian Cup does not mean winning the World Cup. With respect, this is not rugby union or cricket, it is the world's largest and most competitive sport. This is why the ultimate goal is so worthy, the last great sporting frontier for Australia, because it is the greatest challenge we have ever faced. We will win in this half century, I reckon in twenty years, 2034 or 2038;
11. As for now, this win is a challenge to the Abbott Government. Gents, there is nothing that can add value to National identity or international branding like football and our requests and need for funding other major tournaments or parts of the game itself cannot be measured against other sports. We have the most participants, the biggest challenges and the most to offer this country. This Asian Cup has shown you that. We can accelerate progress with more funding as part of a National plan to be world champion, but it will take a visionary politician to bring it to life;
12. To all those in the stadium, thankyou. Like in '05, you helped enormously.
What's most important is that we are quickly building a culture where, certainly in these big moments, the fans know they are there to assist. This is becoming an incredibly difficult country to play in for any opponent. Let this continue to grow. When we play, we play as 23 million people, and that will become more critical as the scale of the matches grows.
13. Lastly, please consider for a moment what it will be like to contest a World Cup final. If last night was merely a Continental Final and '05 nothing more than a qualifier! This is important because, when football needs support from the Government, or in the media, you can help. Australia has never experienced anything like what is ahead of us at future World Cups and it will be a wonderful journey to find out together, as a nation.