Sport Football Leach: Inspiring Socceroos belong in Brazil
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Leach: Inspiring Socceroos belong in Brazil

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Beaten, not broken.

The Socceroos’ 3-1 defeat to Chile in Cuiaba was a bittersweet experience. Again, Australia has started a World Cup campaign on the back foot.

But hey, here’s the thing.

We belong.

For all the pessimism and gallows humour that stalked Australia’s preparation for this campaign, the lesson to be drawn here is not to sell ourselves short.

Mug teams don’t qualify for World Cup finals. It’s a hard road, and though this team barely resembles the one that earned the points to get us to Brazil, the DNA of Australian football is evident.

Work hard, back yourself and, when you get hit, get up

And never, ever take a backward step.

The Socceroos found themselves face down on the canvas after 15 minutes after a combination punch that saw two goals in as many minutes. Defensively, they were like strangers trapped in a phone box, uncomfortable and panicked.

Jorge Sampaoli’s team were playing dazzling football. Watching Alexis Sanchez drop his shoulder and disappear from his marker as though he were a waft of smoke to set up the second goal for Jorge Validva was breathtaking.

And heartbreaking.

Out came the “ole’s” and the victory chant from the frenzied Chilean fans. On the pitch the step overs and the swagger of the men in red was apparent as well.

They were taking the Mickey out of the Socceroos.

To witness Postecoglou’s team find a way to shake off that early assault was an inspiring sight. Initially intimidated by the speed and brilliance of the Chileans, their cocksure strut at their two goal lead aroused an ancient indignation that is part of the Socceroos creed: you can beat us, but do not disrespect us.

Tommy Oar and Matthew Leckie took time to adjust to the dizzying intensity of their first World Cup finals match. When they did, they got out wide and in behind the Chilean defence regularly.

Alex Wilkinson and Matthew Spiranovic weathered the early storm and grew into a solid and disciplined central defensive pairing.

Mark Bresciano.
Socceroos veteran Mark Bresciano.

Mark Bresciano, who played less than an hour of football leading into the match, once again displayed the sort of class this team has craved for. His touch and vision are that of an artist.

Whether this game has emptied his tired body and ruled him out for the encounter with The Netherlands is the question. His grateful nation is hoping for at least one more midfield command performance.

And then there is Tim Cahill.

His goal was emblematic of his wonderful career. When all is said undone, he finds a way to rise above. When the big moments arrive, he wraps his arms around them like an old friend and makes them his own.

He’s now scored at three consecutive World Cup finals, a feat that puts him in the rarest company.

Jean Beausejour’s third goal for Chile in injury time was cruel for the Socceroos, but if it’s justice your looking for, best you get a lawyer.

Football doesn’t do justice.

All of this guarantees Postecoglou’s team nothing as they prepare to face a rampant Netherlands.

The Dutch dismantled Spain like a child with a Lego set, piece by piece, gleefully.

Winning here will be extremely tough, but winning respect has already been achieved.

And that is the one thing any team craves, certainly this one, which had to go out and earn it the hard way.

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