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Jun 15, 2022   |  8:40AM AET

‘The resilience of our game’: The might of our sport summed up by ‘these blokes’

‘The resilience of our game’: The might of our sport summed up by ‘these blokes’

Australian football. Bloody hell, eh.

We don’t know any other way, do we? A rollercoaster, turbulence, and drama. You can knock this beautiful, torturous, addictive, game of ours in this country. We can even do it to ourselves. 

But, it somehow always bounces back. 

Now, we can add 14/6/2022 to the history books. 

Inconceivably, we can add Redmayne to a list that reads Schwarzer, Aloisi, Kennedy, Jedinak. 

Andrew Redmayne’s heroics on the global stage against Peru gives the Socceroos’ World Cup play-off triumph the theatrical, viral moment that sums up the power of the World Cup; the global reach of football as the world discovers the grey Wiggle, and the mainstream ecstasy that today’s triumph provides. World Cup qualification is no panacea, but it is a massive boost for the sport. 

And fittingly, pulling the strings at the centre of the drama, was Graham Arnold, a man who personifies the rollercoaster. The trauma of Argentina and Iran. The ecstasy of Uruguay. The highs of the World Cups. The difficulties of his Asian Cups. 

He has lived it all and the exhaustion of this World Cup Qualifying campaign, which kicked off in another world in 2019, is a fitting summary of that love-hate relationship spanning decades. 

Despite all the doubts, the threats of sackings, questions over style, the existential angst over the threat of non-qualification, here we are; a fifth consecutive World Cup. 

“With all the difficulties in Australian football to qualify for five consecutive World Cups, speaks to the resilience of our game,” Channel 10 co-commentator Andy Harper said at full-time. 

Missing the World Cup was being threatened as our great wake-up call. Heck, if we’ve made it at this ebb, what can this sport truly achieve. 

“(This game in Australia) is tough, it’s strong, it’s big and it’s got an army of support,” Harper added.

We were so close to a generation experiencing the global showpiece without the green and gold for the first time. 

Now, instead, France, Denmark and Tunisia await – thanks to a performance that was nothing short of resilient from the Australian side.

Mitch Duke.

With memories of Peru’s early blitz in 2018 in mind, Australia’s start, with Mitchell Duke’s energy up top the catalyst, helped play the Socceroos into the contest and grow in confidence. 

It was the opposite to the clash against United Arab Emirates; proof once again that Australia should never play with fear, but with organisation, collective strength and confidence – especially with time in camp together, and on territory that was an advantage today. Australia came with tenacity, steel, and not only worked their way into a contest where they were distinct underdogs, but created chances. 

Enough chances, in fact, to win the game in both 90, and 120 minutes, despite Peru also hitting the woodwork once as well. 

That lack of clinical edge is a conversation for another day.

Today, it is a celebration of a side that won against the odds against a Copa America semi-finalist, 2019 finalist, and the fifth-placed finisher in one of the world’s toughest qualifying competitions. 

“We’ve got a bit of heart, Australian footballers,” Socceroos legend Luke Wilkshire mused on Channel 10. 

There was Mat Ryan, the captain, who took the disappointment of being substituted moments from a penalty shoot-out with the grace and class he showed throughout his career; the character of a player who has carved out a career at the highest level and will now eclipse his hero, Mark Schwarzer, by going to a third World Cup – and – as captain. He was replaced by a fellow Mariners alumni, part of a goalkeeping group that includes Danny Vukovic and the man he replaced at the Mariners, John Crawley, who is the country’s goalkeeping coach. 

Andrew Redmayne of Australia subs on for Mathew Ryan
Danny Vukovic leads the celebrations.

Nathaniel Atkinson withstood a baptism of fire and an early yellow card and will now be well placed to build on his move to Scotland to cement his place down the right of Australia’s defence. 

Kye Rowles has played three times for his country, including UAE and Peru. He stepped off an accomplished A-Leagues campaign with Central Coast and looked a seasoned Socceroos veteran in the heart of defence, alongside Bailey Wright, fresh from a promotion campaign with Sunderland. Neither expected to play in this tie, both behind Trent Sainsbury and Harry Souttar in the pecking order. Both were immense. 

Kye Rowles of Australia is challenged by Gianluca Lapadula of Peru

Aziz Behich nearly won the game himself with a surge through the heart of the field and a shot with his right foot. On Channel 10, his former captain Mark Milligan quipped he’d never seen the left-back pass with his right foot before. But the defender was another unlikely hero for his country. 

Aziz Behich of Australia celebrates after defeating Peru

Aaron Mooy was immense. 120 minutes in his second outing in six months. We know his quality, but to run the show from midfield with little club football behind him is a performance for the annals; his fitness a testament to the work Andrew Clark has done with him in Socceroos camp. 

It helped having Jackson Irvine’s engines alongside him. The St Pauli midfielder was everywhere in another lung busting display for his nation, where work rate and discipline, alongside Mathew Leckie, and Martin Boyle, was as critical as any flicker of quality they provided on the ball as well, hugging the touch line and stretching the field for Ajdin Hrustic centrally.

A cynical national newspaper column last week asked who are these blokes? 

These blokes? The national team that are about to take on the likes of Karim Benzema and Christian Eriksen in front of the world.  

From Europa League winner Ajdin Hrustic, to the A-League Men stars Craig Goodwin and Jamie Maclaren who converted penalties, to substitute Awer Mabil, who made a difference and nearly set up the winner, to the veteran journeyman and now viral sensation Redmayne, this team might not be the best, or the most famous, Socceroos vintage we have seen. 

Awer Mabil.

But they are a genuine Socceroos vintage. Tight. Together. Drawn from all corners of the globe – both in terms of their heritage, and where they currently play. And they know the responsibility and history the jersey holds. 

“We might not be as big names as they are (the Golden Generation of 2005) but we’re proud Australians,” Maclaren said.

“And we work hard for our country and there’s no better feeling than putting on the green and gold for our fans back home.”

Wright added: “We’ve seen what it does to a nation, what it does for a young footballer.

“We’re going to inspire a generation for years to come, we can’t underestimate what we achieved.” 

He added: “We want to progress our game ….achievements like this really help our game (and gives) role models for (kids) to look up to. It is a dream come true.” 

Edison Flores of Peru chased by Jackson Irvine.

This is a moment the game must use as a tonic. It has been said before. It has been wasted before. But the opposite of disappointment of missing out is an achievement worth celebrating, and with so many players of this side either playing in, or from the Isuzu UTE A-League, and the World Cup in the middle of the next season, it is time to seize the moment, particularly ahead of the Women’s World Cup in 2023. 

Today is a day many did not expect. As a sport, let’s make the most of it. 

Australian football. Bloody hell.

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