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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Matilda Waltzes On

I've never been a big fan of Australia. Maybe because I'm influenced by the Mahathir era. Maybe because they're confused whether they're East or West. Or maybe because I just don't like Steve Irwin wrestling those crocodiles. Blimey!
But honestly, when Australia was drawn to play Uruguay in a World Cup Qualifying Play-off, I was for the Aussies. The last (and only) time they qualified for the Biggest Show on Earth was back in 1974. 1974?? Where were you in 1974?
I love it when sporting events are held in Australia. They're much more watch-able. With a time difference of just a few hours, I don't have to burn the midnight oil just to watch some mat sallehs kicking balls. So I was excited when kick-off time for the second (and final) leg of the playoff was at 4.45 pm local time. After work, I head straight back home hoping for the almost non-existent traffic jam in Seremban to remain that way.
I think World Cup qualifying playoff games are up there along with the big finals in terms of nerve-wrecking. Just imagine, it's do-or-die. You win, you go to the World Cup. Lose, and you wait another 4 years, for another chance. How demoralizing is that? And after all those grueling group stages and the traveling and everything, you return empty handed. Don't even talk to them about disappointments.
To the match itself: It was a great game. The build-up to it was more exciting. War of words between both sides. Psychological mind games. Who said football was just a game?
Even I, as a neutral armchair supporter was getting into the match. I could feel the tension and anxiety in the Telstra Stadium as the minutes passed. And it occurred to me then, that I feel this way for some country I'm not even keen of. When am I going to feel this sort of excitement for the Malaysian team? Let's not even talk about World Cup qualifying when we don't even qualify for the Asia Cup. Dream on, Stone.
Even the TV commentators were being emotional. It was quite un-professional, I feel. But I could understand that, as it was on Australian TV and they weren't shy to show who they were rooting for.
And in the end, it came down to penalties. After 210 minutes, their fate was in God's hands. Penalties are quite unfair. It's like winning the lottery. If you were meant to win, whatever happens, you're gonna win for sure.
But I'm not taking anything away from Mark Schwarzer. I think he made 2 great penalty saves to send the Aussies to Germany next year. As the stadium erupted as John Aloisi converted his spot kick, it was a sight to behold. People were jumping and screaming. Fans were invading the pitch. You could feel the whole nation celebrating as one on such a special occasion. That's the power of sports. It can bring us apart, yet it can also unite us all.
As the celebrations carried on with the tune of Men At Work's 'Land Down Under' ringing around the stadium, I congratulate Australia and the other 4 playoff teams who qualified for the World Cup. With all 32 teams in place, the countdown to Germany has begun.

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