‘Australian fighting spirit.’ We hear those words so often that they’ve become a cliché.
Not to be confused with Queensland spirit, Outback spirit or Anzac spirit (which it must be said, commemorates a loss), Australian fighting spirit has become the most over-used phrase since Don Bradman was in short pants.
Politicians, TV commentators, sporting coaches. Wherever there’s a flood, bushfire or win against the odds, out it comes, with all the impact of an advertising jingle.
But then, every now again, something happens and you can’t help but shake your head and say to yourself, ‘whoa, that right there is Australian fighting spirit, clear as the nose on your face.’
Like Thursday morning for instance, when the Socceroos beat Denmark 1-0 to make it into the final 16 of the FIFA World Cup, arguably the biggest sporting event on the planet.
Al Janoub Stadium in beautiful downtown Al-Wakrah was awash with Australian fighting spirit. The joint was drowning in it.
Well, how else can you explain what has happened over the past couple of weeks in Qatar?
Australia fans celebrate as they defeat Denmark advancing to the round of 16 at Federation Square, Melbourne
We weren’t even supposed to be there in the first place. To say we snuck in through the back door is an understatement. Last team to qualify – through a penalty shootout no less – the bookies had us on the same line as the home team to win a game, let alone make it to the knock-out rounds.
After getting flogged 4-1 by France in our first match, those odds were looking bang on the money.
And weren’t the knockers out in force then?
Coach Graham Arnold copped more relentless targeted toxicity than Lisa Wilkinson on a bad speech day.
The Socceroo WAGS launched into wild celebrations after Graham Arnold’s underdog team made history with their World Cup win over Denmark in Qatar on Thursday morning. (Pictured L-R: Nicola Mooy, Rosemarie Behich and Hannah Doig)
His selections were wrong, his tactics were wrong, his hair style was wrong.
But he sure could play the Australian fighting spirit card.
If you had ten dollars for every time Arnie said that this team would never give up, you could almost afford a beer in Doha.
To give the man his due though, he has pulled the right rein with spectacular success on at least two occasions during this World Cup campaign.
The first was when he substituted his first-choice goalkeeper and captain Mat Ryan for Andrew Redmayne in the closing seconds of the final qualifier against Peru, gambling correctly that the grey Wiggle would do the business in the penalty shootout.
Mathew Leckie celebrates with Riley McGree after scoring the only goal of the match
The second was keeping injured winger Martin Boyle with the squad and appointing him the team’s Official Vibes Manager.
Corny? Sentimental claptrap?
Maybe, but it sure has worked.
The sight of Boyle hobbling onto the field on his crutches to join the huddle after the Socceroos’ win over Tunisia had Australian fighting spirit written all over it.
And he was back weaving his magic against the heavily-favoured Danes on Thursday morning.
To say the Socceroos had no right to win that match is like saying Ronaldo is a tosser. Duh.
Denmark is ranked number 10 in the world, Australia number 38. Their team is valued at $543 million, compared to the Socceroos’ $56 million. Let’s face it, on paper they are simply better than us – and that’s not even looking at the stats from Thursday morning’s match.
Australia went wild after the Socceroos 1-0 defeat of Denmark on Thursday morning. Fans are pictured on the streets of Melbourne
The Danes had 69 percent of possession to Australia’s 31 percent. Their pass accuracy was 82 percent to our 64 percent. They had six corners to our two.
But I don’t have to tell you the one thing that we had that they didn’t, do I?
Australian fighting spirit.
We’ve seen it time and time again. Shane Warne spinning the Aussies to victory from impossible situations, Ash Barty coming back from the depths of depression to win three Grand Slams and the number one ranking, Cam Smith overcoming a four-stroke deficit to blitz the field in the final round of the British Open.
But there was no Shane Warne in the Socceroos’ lineup on Thursday morning. No Ash Barty or Cam Smith either.
Let’s be brutally honest. This is no second Golden Generation – the Guus Hiddink-coached side that became the first Australian team to make the second round of the World Cup in 2006, jam-packed with quality players like Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill, Mark Viduka, Lucas Neill and Mark Schwarzer.
Just a bunch of solid battlers, some of whom are struggling to get a regular start at their clubs and others who play in leagues that the likes of Danish stars Kasper Schmeichel and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg have probably never heard of.
Socceroos fans watching Australia play Denmark in the FIFA World Cup shortly after Leckie’s stunning goal
But guess what? They are in the round of 16, and don’t even try telling them that they’re no hope against Argentina on Sunday morning.
They were supposed to be no hope against Tunisia but Mitchell Duke scored a goal off the back of his head that he couldn’t reproduce at training, and then they defended like their lives depended on it.
They were supposed to be no hope against Denmark but Mathew Leckie, who fell in a hole when he could have tapped in a sitter against Tunisia, danced like Fred Astaire before putting the ball into the back of the net on Thursday morning.
As SBS commentator David Basheer put it as he signed off on Thursday morning, ‘Australian spirit on full display in World Cup football.’
You’d better believe it. The Socceroos do.
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