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Fans happy with Socceroos' performance

Despite the Socceroos losing their first match against Chile 3-1, fans outside the stadium in Cuiabá seem buoyed by their team's fighting spirit.

PT2M12S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3a42a 620 349

Cuiaba, Brazil. Australia was the first country to arrive at the 2014 World Cup. It was the first team on the pitch to warm up at Arena Pantanal on this steamy Friday night, and the last to leave, shooed off by an official who wanted to start the game.

It had the best of the last three quarters of the match, even longer. Tim Cahill scored a goal, bless him. "Cahill with the head"; one day David Bridie will put that to music. Australia was the last team to leave the pitch at night's end, staying to applaud their fans and even acknowledge the boisterous Chileans, for the World Cup is nothing if not a commonwealth of soccer.

But like the World Cup itself, the Socceroos could not bring it all together in the way the best teams in the world do. Chile scored two exquisite early goals and a thumper at the end and won 3-1. Australia already had a mountain to climb in this tournament; now it is lost in the Andes without oxygen.

Mathew Leckie of Australia lies on the field as Gary Medel of Chile stands above him.

Mathew Leckie of Australia lies on the field as Gary Medel of Chile stands above him Photo: Getty Images

It would be easy to say – and the Socceroos to a man said it – that they were unlucky. Coach Ange Postecoglou was convinced that if they had scored a second goal, they would have added a third and won the game. Cahill, the ever feisty, said they would have won it anyway except for the niggling and niggardly tactics of the Chileans that go by the lame name of professionalism. Cahill called it cheating.

But he of all players should know that the result of a soccer match is always not the sum of its parts, that at this level what often sets teams apart is a certain je ne sais quoi, a knowingness, a finishing touch. In the end, Chile won for no better reason than that it was Chile.

Arena Pantanal lacked finishing touches. It is a FIFA special, a spanking new thing of beauty in itself, but sitting like a crashed spaceship in the middle a hardscrabble suburb in a hardscrabble town. Around is the effect of a blasted crater, which actually is incomplete earthworks. The way to nirvana this night was around a battalion of bulldozers. It is a classic of the white elephants with which FIFA is slowly populating the world.

But all this is artfully hidden from the world, and was cheerily overlooked by football pilgrims from Chile and Australia. A distinguishing feature of the World Cup is the communion of supporters, so different from club soccer. Before going to vocal war, they stopped to take one another's pictures.

The Chileans vastly outnumbered the Australians, which was not so surprising; they had come from just over the mountains, the Australians from over the oceans. The Chileans' banners turned the balustrades into a party-coloured mural, and crowded out the one humble Australian standard. The Chileans whistled the Australians on to the pitch, and drowned out their fans with their rousing and anthemic "Vamos. Vamos Chilenos, esta noche, tenemos que ganar." – Let's go Chileans, tonight, we have to win. If the Australians did not know previously that they were in South America, they did now.

The team sheets were as intimidating as the crowd: next to Chilean names were Barcelona and Juventus, next to the Socceroos, Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory. Before 15 minutes were up, the Chileans had scored twice. Both goals were so pretty they could have sat for Rembrandt. Alexis Sanchez, the Barcelona man, twirled the Australians as if on his fingertip. His teammates were no less breathtaking. "Ole," rejoined the Chilean crowd at each touch. "Ole." The Australians had expected this onslaught, but were paralysed by it. "Too much respect, too much space," they all said later. "Too much respect, too much space," said Postecoglou. Humiliation threatened.

But the shock passed, and the Socceroos lifted, and beat back the siege, and with admirable spirit played their way into the match. Cahill scored once, and had another disallowed for off-side. Mark Bresciano tested the Chilean goalkeeper twice. Mathew Leckie made marauding runs. The Australians pride themselves on their fitness, and now it showed. When the Chileans did lever an opening, Alex Wilkinson scrambled it off the line. The fates were aligning propitiously. The Chileans players were gesticulating angrily at one another, and their fans were pleading rather than chanting, and then whistling for the match to end.

Ninety minutes ticked over, and the inevitable goal came at last – but be damned if it wasn't at the other end. Here again was soccer's maddening and mystifying internal logic, manifest. Goalkeeper Matt Ryan saved bravely, only for Chilean substitute Jean Beausejour to beat him on the rebound with a piledriver of a shot that would have shaken loose the bathroom fittings in Arena Pantanal if there were any.

Two explosions greeted this development, the Chileans fans suddenly back alive, and a round of fireworks inside the stadium. The Australians did their bare-chested rounds to whiffs of burnt cordite and burning disappointment. All that was unarguable about the 3-1 scoreline was all that is ever incontestable in soccer, it's fact.