Look out Russia - here come the Australians!
Another November night to remember and cherish as the Socceroos delivered World Cup qualification17 November 2017 | Pablo Bateson
The build-up for supporters on match day was based on many emotions; from excitement and expectation, to nervousness or optimism and confidence.
Having arrived from my home in Bangkok late last week, I choose a more relaxed means to get to Stadium Australia by mid-afternoon. This involved a ferry from Circular Quay to Olympic Park wharf. A connecting bus took me to Stadium Australia for late lunch in a Thai restaurant on one avenues lined with jacaranda blossoms.
Around 5pm it was over to the 'Brewery' pub for a pre-game gathering with football friends and associates, before entering the stadium just after 6.30pm to soak up the building atmosphere and watch the squads warm-up. By kick-off the Socceroos active support area was over flowing and in full swing in terms of vocal expression and visual displays.
Other than some stubborn resistance in the first half, Honduras were outplayed right across the park of this Inter-Confederations final play off second leg.
With the sides locked 0-0 at half time, tensions on the terraces were raised. Doubts and nervousness levels increased amongst the crowd of more than 77,000 people about the eventual outcome.
However, inspirational captain Mike Jedinak led by example to nail an amazing hat-trick, all from spot kicks including two penalties. Each time the outpouring of joy and relief by supporters in the active section was accompanied by a popular chant in tribute of his name.
By the third goal from the 'Jedi Warrior', the singing extended to “We’re all going to Moscow, we’re all going to Moscow, we’re all going to Moscow, and you’re (Honduras) not!"
In a goalmouth scramble, Los Catrachos pinched a fortuitous consolation goal in the last minute of time added and a 3-1 final score-line that flattered the visitors.
After full time there were scenes of jubilation both on and off the park. Our unofficial sporting national anthem Down Under boomed out on the PA system, for thousands of fans to proudly join in chorus.
The presentation on stage with special edition qualification T-shirts - using a tag line that was also used as far back for the Socceroos as 1999 - for players and fireworks was followed by a traditional lap of honour to allow mutual salutes between adoring supporters and the squad.
A self-fulfilling destiny was achieved by the Socceroos. It was also a wonderful achievement to mark the sudden death of our fellow Socceroos fan and comrade Adam Dunbar. This victory is for you mate, along with other true believers who have passed on this year including Mike Cockerill and Les Murray.
It was a privilege to be invited by the family of one player to join the celebrations at an official ‘after party’ in one of the function rooms of the stadium. This provided a unique opportunity to engage with so many involved in our game in Australia.
One of the highlights from the many conversations was striker Tomi Juric insisting that I must commit immediately to travelling to Russia 2018. “You must book your flights immediately Pablo.” My rapid response was of course in the affirmative.
I got back to the house of my friends by around 2am for some much needed sleep ahead of a relatively early rise for my flight back to Bangkok.
After passing through immigration I had a brief encounter with some departing Honduras players and staff in team colours.
Our short conversation was respectful and positive, and I appreciated their congratulatory words during what must surely be a very tough time so far away from home. A temporary distraction for most of them appeared to be loading up on purchases in the duty-free section.
I am completing this post game article flying high above the central deserts of Australia at around 36,000 feet.
We are a big country, connected through football with an even bigger Asian continent. It will be an honour to join Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Korea from the Asian Football Confederation at the World Cup finals.
It is the culmination of a challenging and yet exhilarating qualification campaign, during which I attended 20 of the 22 matches since June 2015. My away trips started in Kyrgyzstan, and then went on to include Tajikistan, Jordan, Bangladesh, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Iran (hosted Iraq game) and Japan.
Although it is difficult to predict what will emerge over coming days, it is hoped that Ange takes us through the final starting next June.
Meanwhile, my own planning as a supporter and writer has already started to lock-in travel, tickets, accommodation and other arrangements for Russia 2018.
More unique experiences and adventures in following the Socceroos will beckon, and they have an opportunity to go deep into the knock out stages of Russia 2018.
Here come the Aussies to give this tournament a shake.
You can read all about Pablo's travels with the Socceroos by starting with this link that lists his contributions.
socceroos, world cup qualifier, #roadtorussia, 2018 world cup, honduras, #ausvhon