The four of us went to ANZ Stadium, Olympic Park, last night full of anticipation that we might see a great match. And isn’t that every fan’s hope? Unfortunately, for the game if not for Australia, it was a dead rubber. By beating Qatar convincingly Australia had already made it to the next round of the World Cup qualifiers. By losing to Iraq China were at the bottom of the group table with no chance of making it through. On the positive side Pim Verbeek had selected a young side who presumably would try to impress everyone and stake a claim for a place in the regular socceroo line-up. Meanwhile China would be keen to go out of the qualifiers on a high note.
China kept their side of the bargain for the first 15 minutes. They looked threatening and scored a good goal. But that was the end – they shut the game down and wasted as much time as possible. The goalkeeper hung on to the ball as often as possible. Various players went down in a screaming heap for no justifiable reason – number 13 was carried off twice only to recover miraculously and then waste time trying to come back on.
Of course this sort of tactic can backfire if the other side scores. But Australia looked poorly organised and unconvincing. As the game went on the new players settled down a little but there were so many technical errors – misdirected passes, poor control of the ball, sloppy marking – that scoring looked unlikely. Harry Kewell had a solid game but you could see he didn’t have conficence in the players behind him so he rarely left the middle of the park to support Bruce Djite up front.
There was talk in the media during the week that the ANZ Stadium playing surface was in poor condition after recent Rugby League matches. It did look worse for wear – plenty of grass but a bit spongy and uneven.
Despite the result it was a good night out. We drove to Strathfield station and caught the train to Olympic Park, avoiding the traffic jams. (We usually take the train all the way because the fares are included in the football ticket, but there was trackwork on our line on Sunday). Barbara packed sandwiches, snacks, drinks and coffee so we didn’t need to queue up to buy expensive crap.