Australian Spirit Roars, but Chile Prevails.

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As the lowest ranked nation in the World Cup Finals, most Australians were pleased to see we had been drawn in a group with the defending champions, the defending runners up, and arguably the third best team in South America. Bets were being made on how many goals Australia would concede; would it be 15 or only 10? Will Sanchez score a hatrick? Will Spain have more than 80% possession? It was grim. But a common thread in the build up to the Finals, present in all the international punditry, was that Australia, out-gunned and standing on the precipice, staring into the void, have a fighting spirit that few can hope to rival. A trite sentiment to be sure, but a true one, and no truer exemplified than in the last vital member of the old guard, Tim Cahill.

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Chile exploded out of the blocks, scoring twice in the opening 15 minutes. Australia’s World Cup was going to the script, battered by an attack led by Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez, coming off his best season in Spain. Sanchez had scored the opener, a period of bedlam in Australia’s box, where Mat Ryan was led off his line to chase the man with the ball, who had been put through by a cute pass. The ball was centred, and Jedinak failed to win a crucial clearing header. The ball fell to Sanchez, who sidefooted it home with his toe, just as Ryan arrived back on his line. It was an early blow for the Australians. Jorge Valdivia was then fed by Sanchez again two minutes later, and with time to look up and take a touch outside Australia’s box, he hit a terrific shot, the ball flying in off the bar.

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Australia were shaken, desperate and stretched. It was the time for an old head to calm things down, before they really got out of hand. Chile were champing at the bit, ready to turn this game, only half an hour old, into a real ordeal. That’s when an old head, the head of Tim Cahill, rose up to lift the hopes of a nation. The wingers Leckie and Oar, and overlapping fullbacks Franjic and Davidson, had looked like our best attacking threats in qualifying and the pre-tourrnament friendlies, and it was from a Franjic cross from the right that Cahill scored. It was exactly the delivery that Cahill relishes attacking, a flighted ball to the back post for him to leap into. Gary Medel, playing at centre back, was no match for the Australian, and Cahill powered the ball past the keeper to make it 2-1. Cahill had another great chance to score a few minutes after, the Chileans stunned by the goal after dominating for the majority of the game thus far. The first half ended with the Socceroos firmly on the rise.

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Australia were set back by Ivan Franjic’s injury early in the second half, which forced him off. But Australia maintained their confident play, and remained on top of Chile. Tim Cahill had the ball in the net for 2-2, but it was chalked off for offside, a correct call. The Chile defence eventually took note of the threat Cahill posed, and risky moment for them came when they nullified him by grabbing a fistful of his shirt at a corner. Mark Bresciano, who had been slowly imposing his cultured possession-retaining style on the game, had a couple of golden chances, one of which, a low, curling volley right in the corner, was brilliantly saved by Cabravo. Chile, too, were threatening to score, and Wilkinson had to clear off the line after the ball was dinked over Mat Ryan. He got there just in time, with the ball rolling in. The game then descended into a period of literal end-to-end play, counter-attack after counter-attack going back and forth, for both sides.

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It was nervy, with both teams looking like they could take control, but the score still at 2-1 to the South Americans. Wigan’s Jean Beausejour came on to invigorate Chile’s attack, and James Troisi was sent on for Australia. Chile were denied a clear run in on goal by the flag, a call that looked doubtful when reviewed on the replay. Leckie, who had been Australia’s best attacker in the second half, cramped up such was the effort he had put in on the flanks. The game was ended in the 91st minute, when Jean Beausejour smashed in a long range rebound after Mat Ryan had saved. It was tough for the Socceroos to take, and it gave the scoreline a patina of dominance it didn’t deserve, though the Chileans deserved to win.

Australia were expected by most to lose heavily, embarrassingly so, in every game. They were expected to be non-competitors. Chile began the game so strongly, with so much attacking verve and swagger. Australia could have been forgiven if they’d thrown their hands up after 15 minutes, but they didn’t. Australia coach Ange Postecoglou called it “gut-wrenching” after the match. But, in the context of this group and Finals as a whole, and against the third best team on the home continent, a young Australian team showed just how strong that Australian spirit can be.

Goals below, linked to in GIF form.

Chile’s first.

Chile’s second.

Australia’s first.

Chile’s third.

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