Last night I went to my first live sporting event for some time. I was there along with 23 thousand other passionate football fans to welcome back the Australian National team ( the Socceroos if you will) back to Australia for the first time in over 750 days.
Despite the terrible weather the conditions for the game were near perfect. The pitch looked perfect as we have come to expect from the Comm Bank stadium ground staff. It truly is the perfect venue for proper football, not that rugby league dredge that only ruins the turf.
So let’s get into the game itself shall we. With the rain pouring down, myself and the 2 mates I went to the game with definitely felt the conditions played into the hands of the Aussies, since Saudi Arabia is hot dry and a desert and their entire squad play in Saudi Arabia, so rain isn’t a condition they’d be used to.
The referee Hyung Jin Ko seemed to get off to a good start, letting the game flow when some of the more questionable challenges were made. But boy did that soon change. Every time a Socceroo made a great but physical challenge, Hyung chose to blow it up and stop the play dead, unfortunately he didn’t play it down the middle and very similar if not worse challenges made on Australian players went unpunished and play allowed to play on. Despite that it appeared the Socceroos had the better of the chance, although none of them amounted to anything on target. On the balance of play, the Aussies were certainly in control of the game no matter how hard the ref wanted to change it.
The 2 sides went into the break at nil all, a score line that definitely flattered the Saudi’s. And I along with every other fan sitting in the stadium fully expected to see the Socceroos in the 2nd half put at least 1 goal past the Saudi GK. Unfortunately for everyone there to welcome home the Socceroos that would not be the case. And if anything, it was the Saudi Arabian side who came the closest in the 2nd half to breaking the deadlock with a few counter attacks caused by errant passe from the Aussie Midfield. But Matt Ryan as ever stayed solid and denied all those chances.
It quickly became clear that the Saudis were happy with the draw. Every chance they got they rolled around like someone from the stands was sniping them down. Small contact in challenges resulted in theatrical rolling around, yet not once did their teams physio come onto the field. The worst offender was Abdulelah Al-Malki who every minor touch from and opponent saw him flailing around worse than the Prima Donna Neymar.
The one time and Aussie went down with an injury, the physios were required. And unfortunately, it was giant defender Harry Souttar going down with a suspected knee injury. I’ve been trawling Stoke City forums and news sites and they are not happy with the injury. More worrying is the fact it didn’t happen in contact he was simply running and fell clutching the back of his knee. He’s not only a key player for Australia but he is crucial to the Stoke City defence this season in the EFL Championship.
Despite all these stoppages in play, which myself and everyone around us were joking about there being 10 minutes at least of added time, the referee in his wisdom decided that only 3 minutes of added time needed to be played. I mean for god’s sake Al-Malki himself rolled around on the floor for longer than 3 minutes alone, not to mention Harry’s injury. If the AFC are legitimate about the standards of officiating, they won’t let him take charge of another match. Id be hesitant in letting him be a fourth official let alone the man in the middle. You just need to look at twitter to see that 3 minutes was definitely no where near the amount of time the fans expected. What a Joke Hyung Jin Ko is.
The match ended in a nil nil draw which leaves Saudi Arabia on top of the Group on 13 points while Australia sit in 2nd on 10 points. Japan’s less than impressive 1-0 win over in Vietnam sees them sit just behind Australia on 9 points. Australia now fly out to the UAE for there next game against China as we begin the 2nd round of this stage of qualifying. Manager Graham Arnold was quoted in saying “We’re in a great position still, 10 points in five games. If we beat China [on Tuesday] we are in a fantastic position” and I would simply say, to all the fans calling for Arnold to be fired, pull your f*****g heads in, they played well on a cold and rainy night in Parramatta, had it been better conditions Hrustic would’ve scored his volley and some of the other bounces that went away from the Aussies in the box would have gone another way.
Despite this less than positive homecoming, the Socceroos will be more than comfortable in qualifying for the World Cup in 2022.