EXCLUSIVE from Pablo Bateson

The afternoon of match day was a relatively low key and yet enjoyable pre-arranged meet up at the “Metro” pub on the bustling Chuy Avenue, the main street of central Bishkek. Our travelling supporters group ensured that the expat owned establishment was well adorned with Socceroos’ flags and a larger banner across the bar. Setting the right mood was enhanced by the enthusiasm of affable manger/owner Richard and his delightful Kyrgyz wife.

At around 6.45pm the ritual march to stadium less than one kilometre away commenced, along mostly tree-lined streets. The weather conditions were ideal; fine, light winds, low humidity and temperatures in the mid 20s degrees Celsius.  Our active supporters were joined by local expats including even some families with excited young kids with colourful Aussie clothing and flags.

The adage of ‘expect the unexpected’ never rang so true as when we got close to the stadium.  Confusing long queues and thousands of fans congregated at the southern end, so most of us headed with some difficulty to the main archway entrance on the north-west corner.  The dramas began with police preventing fans, even with tickets, from passing through an outer perimeter temporary barriers.  Much pushing and shoving by the crowd meant an uneasy situation quickly developed into a scarier one.

With the help of two Kyrgyz speaking expats liaising with police and football officials, most of our fans were eventually allowed through a series of check points.  Then we were escorted to the allotted section in the south-west corner of the ground. With just on 30 minutes from the scheduled start, there was considerable relief!

However, it quickly became apparent that some expats who arrived at the ground separately and two travelling fans from Australia were not so fortunate.  Even with a legitimate ticket, life-long supporter Tim Buchanan (known affectionately as “Posh”) was left with no other option but to find a sports bar to watch the match on television.  For a more detailed interview covering the serious security and entry issues, read here

The Football Federation of Kyrgyzstan has overall been a generous and friendly host, so let us all hope they can learn from these deficiencies with the co-operation of police and security officials and personnel.

A sell out 18,000 attendance provided an intense atmosphere, and the stage was set for an epic encounter.  We had enough time to pose for plenty of photo opportunities with fellow and local fans alike, including the whole of the Kyrgyzstan U-16s national team who later proved to be as passionate and vocal as any other home fans  in the stadium (main picture).

‘Scarves up’ for the Australian national anthem and the pride was once again on display in readiness for kick-off. The Socceroos got off to a dream start after only a minute when the Kyrgyzstan goal keeper failed to handle a direct free kick by captain Mile Jedinak for 1-0, sending our terrace into raptures.  However, for most of the rest of the first half it was the hosts who dominated - let down by poor finishing.

Our expectation was that surely the Socceroos would lift the tempo in the second half and they did indeed gradually build some momentum, especially with the introduction of Tommy Oar in a wide left attacking midfielder role.

It seemed that the result was just about decided when, in the 67th minute, Tommy slotted home a low left footed shot to the far post, after some nice lead up play by midfielder Mark Milligan.

However, there was one last convincing counter in stoppage time added by Kyrgyzstan leading to goal on the far post when handball was clearly the method of Almazbek Mirzaliev in finding the back of the net.  It was a small and just reward for Krasnaya Sbornaya (the “Red Team’) and their amazing fans.

Full time, and jubilation for Australian supporters who were acknowledged by the playing squad coming right over to the away section for mutual salutes and recognition.  Leaving the stadium was slightly less chaotic than the scenes about three hours earlier, although the planned post match press conference and mixed zone for media did not eventuate.

To cap off a fine result  and wonderful trip to Kyrgyzstan, we retreated to the Regency Hyatt Hotel for celebratory drinks, conversation and shared stories between fans, FFA officials and Embassy staff. Once again the camaraderie across our active supporters group has been amazing, and it really is a ‘football family’ based around a joint appreciation and passion for our game, travel to exotic places and the Socceroos.  In the morning it is a departure for Dubai and a short stopover ahead of flights home to Australia.

The next step for our Socceroos in Group B preliminary qualifiers on the road to Russia 2018 World Cup is a home game in Perth on 3rd September. We then have a quick turnaround to face Tajikistan in the capital Dushanbe five days later. I will be once again on board for more exciting football adventures, and an opportunity to break new ground to a destination never before reached by our national team.

You can follow Pablo via Twitter @PabloFootball 

Categories: News | Socceroos

socceroos, world cup qualifier, road to russia

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