Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

U.S. Soccer’s Twin from Down Under

January 10th, 2015 · No Comments · Football, soccer, UAE, World Cup

They wear green and gold instead of red, white and blue, but I am constantly reminded of American soccer when I watch Australian soccer, which I will be doing for a few weeks because Oz is hosting the quadrennial Asian Cup tournament.

I am reminded of U.S. soccer for several reasons.

Australians call the game soccer. As do Yanks.

The world’s game ranks no better than the fourth-biggest sport in Australia. Same as in the United States.

The Australian national team owes a great debt to recent immigrants. Ditto, the U.S.

Australians do not give up easily; it is hard to convince them they are beaten. That’s a Yank thing, too.

The Australian team is fairly primitive, technically, but often gets past that thanks to team spirit and unit cohesion. Which describes any American national soccer team ever assembled.

Let’s expand on these points one by one.

–The “soccer” thing. As in the States, soccer gained traction in Australia long after the country had given the name “football” to another sport. In the U.S., it was American football. In Oz it was Australian rules football. The spotted ball’s game would have to be known by another name, and “soccer” it was. (Some in England believe the word “soccer” came from the word “association” — as in “association football” as soccer is known in many countries.)

–Popularity. In the U.S., soccer ranks behind football, baseball and basketball in popularity. Well behind. In Oz, Aussie rules, cricket and rugby are miles ahead.

–The U.S. national team essentially grew out of immigrant/ethnically based clubs more than a century ago. Australian soccer developed in the same way in the 1920s, on Sunday afternoons in the park by immigrants playing a game the native population considered alien.

Further, both teams depend on numerous players whose immediate forebears came from outside the country. The current U.S. team has several players who grew up in Germany. Australia has six players on its current Asian Cup team who have Croatian antecedents. (The breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s was a boon for Oz soccer.) Its current team also has a Turkish Cypriot, a Greek and a Italian-Indonesian, and among players who have been in the national team (but aren’t at the moment) are two Italians, a Nigerian, a Ukrainian, an Afghan-Nicaraguan and a Mauritian-German/Pole.

–Never giving up. Call it heart or obstinance, Aussies don’t chuck in the towel when things start to go bad. The American soccer team is famous for this. This characteristic often puzzles teams from other parts of the world, who consider a form of denial and wonder why they should kill themselves in a lost cause. An unwillingness to lie down also is part of the collective approach to the game, which makes Aussie and American teams greater than their individual parts.

–The technical thing. Americans are not skilled on the ball. They can’t make it do tricks. Aussies might be even worse. A smaller player pool (population, 22 million, compared to the U.S. population of 315 million) is some of it.

Anyway, Australia tends to overachieve, with all the earnest industry about the game. As do the Yanks.

Australia has qualified for three consecutive World Cups after being involved only once before. The U.S. has been in seven consecutive, after missing the previous nine.

The Aussies have become significant players in Asian football.

Before 2006, they played in the Oceania Football Federation. Which they dominated, but it was a federation with only one other semi-competent soccer team, that of New Zealand, and Australia winning their federation tournament got them only the half-berth allocated by Fifa. They tended to lose in the playoff for whoever had the other half berth (vs. Argentina, Uruguay and Iran), breaking through only in 1974 and then not again until 2006, when they beat Uruguay.

That prompted them to join the Asian Confederation, which of late has four automatic berths and half of a fifth.

That, and the reality of Australia’s geographical isolation. They had severe trouble getting teams to come play them in their country, but as part of Asian competition, national teams from Lebanon to Japan now must play at Australia, now and then.

The UAE, too. Oz comes here and the Emiratis go there. I have seen Australian national teams play twice in the UAE; I never saw Australia play in the U.S.

And we are watching the Asian Cup because the UAE’s best team in a generation is playing in it.

Anyway, the Aussies/Yanks thing came up again yesterday, in the opening match of the Asian Cup. Kuwait scored the first goal, and you would be surprised at how many teams in the world would immediately expect the worst. Maybe not quite quit, so early, but hang their heads a little … and quit over the final 20 minutes.

The Australians, however, scored four goals, including one by Tim Cahill, former Everton star now finishing his career with the New York Red Bulls, and won 4-1.

Just like the Yanks. Might be interesting to see them play each other, all that running and earnestness and teamwork and mental toughness — and not a one who could score on a bicycle kick or complete a back-heel pass.


0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment