We’re there. We can go down to Dymocks to get our hands on a ‘Brazil’ Lonely Planet, start saving our Frequent Flyer points for a flight to Rio, and begin pouring through TripAdvisor to find a rental near Ipanema beach. We did it the hard way – via Muscat and Amman and Bangkok and Dammam – but now we can all look forward to an icy cold Brahma on Copacabana.
It’s not every day your country qualifies for a World Cup, especially if your country is Australia, a nation that seemingly possessed a pathological disposition against qualifying for the tournament until 2005. Having notched three in a row, it’s easy to forget the frustration and utter despair of playoff losses to Argentina, Israel, Scotland, Uruguay and Iran.
And it’s not every World Cup that you get to travel to football’s Mecca. Brazil and football go together like a pie and sauce, like Bill and Tony, like Josh Dugan and a Bacardi Breezer. It’ll be overpriced and crowded and Australia will probably get pumped but the 2014 tournament is so special because it takes place in such an incredible footballing nation. And we’ll be there.
We’re crap. If we’re going to pick players the wrong side of thirty, the least we could expect is a calm, measured, mature performance in the crunch qualifiers. Instead, we were treated to a frantic 1-0 against a bunch of visiting under-20s from the world’s No.98 nation. Joachim Löw and Big Phil Scolari weren’t tuning in last night fastidiously taking notes on the looming threat from Down Under.
Asia is the easiest qualifying path by far, but Australia only just limped to the line. Losses to Oman and Jordan weren’t in the script, nor were the nerve janglers at home to Middle Eastern minnows. The Socceroos regularly looked slow and static and disorganised throughout the campaign and that augurs poorly for Brazil.
The quality of the national team is bound to ebb and flow – these are the dying embers of a so-called golden generation that has offered so much – but expectations should remain relatively constant. Johnny Warren, the now demigod of Australian football, once queried, “I’m sick of us saying, ‘When are we going to qualify for the World Cup?’ … when are we going to win the World Cup?” It’s worth keeping that in mind when the players so wildly celebrate a breathless, scrappy, last-minute win against lowly opposition, as if they had just beaten Spain to collect the buttered confection. This country is capable of more than just a participation ribbon, but that’s what we seem to be content with.
If you asked Brazilians, many would tell you not to come to the World Cup. Protesters – hundreds of thousands of them, some motivated by football, many by broader political issues – are imploring foreigners to boycott the tournament in protest of a government recklessly wasting money like Blake Ferguson at a Cronulla nightspot and skimming even more off the top, while the country’s schools and hospitals lie in disrepair.
When Rio’s mayor Eduardo Paes said he’d kill himself if Argentina lifted the trophy in the Maracanã next year, more than 13,000 Brazilians joined a facebook group supporting the Albiceleste. Although that stunt was tongue-in-cheek, the dissent is sincere. Just this afternoon in Buenos Aires, thousands of expat Brazilians marched from the iconic Obelisk in the centre of the city to their country’s embassy to demand the return of Ordem e Progresso – order and progress, the two qualities that adorn the nation’s flag.
Asking foreigners to stay away won’t be successful. Firstly, the funds have already been spent, rightly or wrongly, so well-heeled gringos may as well come and inject some Real into the nation’s ailing coffers. Secondly, anyone inclined to heed such a request would already be keenly aware of (and averse to) FIFA’s vision of ‘modern football’, proudly brought to you by McDonald’s™ and Budweiser™. Thirdly, I reckon most people just want to watch their team play footy without worrying about politics.
Even if their team will be captained by a clubless 36-year-old.