The recent “friendly” between the All Whites and Australia was an eye-opener for New Zealand and hopefully we will learn lessons from it for the future.
Matches between New Zealand and Australia are never friendly but its probably true to say that this one was more brutal than most. Grella & Cahill should definitely have been sent off and Milligan too could have seen red for his disgraceful over the top tackle on Lochhead. Whilst Milligan was guilty of one bad challenge, Cahill & Grella seemed intent on injuring as many Kiwis as possible. Before his shocking challenge on Bertos, Cahill had already put his foot into Fallons back – a more than bookable offence which seems to been forgotten amidst the other challenges. Grella, of course, having attempted to cripple Bertos followed up by pulling Tim Brown down, a soft challenge, perhaps, but one which has left one of New Zealands most important players in serious doubt for our World Cup campaign.
But back to the Australians.
One has to question their motives in approaching the game the way they did. None of those challenges were rash, none of them accidental, each and every one of them a deliberate attempt to maim an opponent. Whilst its true that this game was worse than most, the Socceroos have never been backward in coming forward in the physical side of the game. The very fact that they started the game with Moore, Neill & Grella – three names that any fans around the world would tell you are aggressive – implied that they weren’t taking the game lightly. Thinking back through their recent history and coming up with names such as Tiatto, Muscat & Vidmar, its obvious that what the Australians lack in ability, they are more than happy to make up in aggression.
So what can we learn?
Well one wonders what we were doing playing a local derby so close to such a major event. Who’s idea was that? Whilst we do crave playing Australia, and should match ourselves against them more often, it was pure folly to play them when we did. We just don’t have the strength in depth to risk losing key players to injury. What did we hope to gain from this game? More sensible to play the subsequent Slavic sides and Chile…sides that play similarly to the teams we will meet in South Africa… teams that have little to lose by losing to New Zealand. Local derbies anywhere in the world bring out aggression and desire….. whether it be Glasgow, North London, Milan or Rio, derbies are blood and thunder and controversy and especially passion come to the fore. Australia in front of their home crowd – in the match billed as “The Socceroos Farewell Match” – were suddenly being made to look second rate. “Little New Zealand” took the game to them and were outplaying them all over the park. We were a goal up and had hit the post, whilst McDonald, Cahill & co were looking lost against our back three. The Australians were feeling their pride take a beating – they were being embarrassed. The only crowd you could hear was the White Noise contingent. Is it any wonder Australia reacted the way they did? The little brother was teaching the big brother a lesson….how would any big brother react?
In recent years with the Kingz, Knights & Phoenix playing in the Australian leagues, there’s been a tendency for some Kiwis to wish the Socceroos well in their world cup forays…in some kind of Anzac/Oceanic kindred spirit.
After that display at the MCG I for one will be thrilled if Australia lose all three world cup matches handsomely. And if Cahill & Grella are injured in the process…well that would be some justice.