Words: Eli Mengem
Two Euro trophies. One World Cup. Tiki-taka. False nines. Iniesta. Spain had a pretty good national team, didn’t they? Like seriously good. Like so good (albeit briefly) they brought together one of the most politically fractured countries in Western Europe every second summer for six years.
So, in the opening Group B match of the 2014 World Cup, when that same squad was humiliated 5–1, it’s fair to say the next team to face the Dutch had reason to be concerned.
That team was my team. Australia. And, having already lost our first match to Chile, we were very, very, concerned. And I was going to be in Porto Alegre to watch it.
Ranked 64th in the world, our only European starter was Crystal Palace’s Mile Jedinak. The shaggy-haired central midfielder was on the back of a solid season helping keep the Eagles up in their first season back in the Prem, but I had no idea how he—alongside Al-Gharafa’s 35-year-old Marco Bresciano and Brisbane Roar’s Matt McKay—planned to do better than Xabi Alonso, Ramos, and Piqué against van Gaal’s team.
So twenty minutes in, after Arjen Robben picked up the ball at the halfway line, meandered past Shandong Luneng’s Ryan McGowan and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors’ Alex Wilkinson, and slotted the ball past Club Brugge’s second-choice ‘keeper Matt Ryan, we seriously doubted whether we should hang around for the inevitable humiliation.
But football fans forget, don’t they?
Because while the Dutch possessed a squad worth a couple of hundred million, and ours was made up of players from the kind of clubs I’d only ever seen in Football Manager, we had a diamond in the rough. We had the five-foot-ten product of the harsh streets of Western Sydney, born to a Samoan mother and an English father, who told him he could play any sport he wanted as long as it was football. The boy wonder who, in 2006, with Australia 1–0 down against Japan in the final minutes on our return to the World Cup after 32 years, slotted the ball through four sets of Samurai Blue legs to score our nation's first goal in the history of the tournament. The same player who then six minutes later smacked the blooming shit out of that lovely adidas Teamgeist to secure our first ever World Cup win.
He was still at it four years later in South Africa when he rose over six-foot-two Nemanja Vidić to head in our fourth goal, and only four days prior to the Dutch match he sailed over Chile’s pit bull Gary Medel to equalise.
All cast-iron evidence that it is impossible to prepare for Tim Cahill in the World Cup.
So, when it happened, I’ve no idea why we were surprised.
Three touches after the restart and the ball is pumped into the Netherlands half. It seems to take ages as we all crane our necks together to watch its flight. As the ball starts to drop, Cahill skips gracefully along the box, positioning himself to be right under it as it returns to the surface, and then, without even considering a first touch, without even considering letting it hit the ground, he smacks it on the volley. Off the laces it screams, hammering straight from foot to the bottom of the crossbar and through the tiny space that the outstretched Cillessen can’t cover.
Fuck. Ing. Hell.
You know those goals, where they’re so good; your subconscious refuses to believe it? First, you look at the net twice to make sure the ball is actually inside it; then you head straight for the linesman, ‘cause surely his flag is up then up to the scoreboard, ‘cause those goals just don’t happen for your team. This was one of those ones. And then you realise you’re not dreaming, and your side has scored a worldie. In a World Cup. Against the side who had just dick-slapped the reigning champions.
It was Cahill’s fifth World Cup goal—half of ALL Australia’s goals in the history of the tournament—and eight rows back from the pitch, at the same end, even same side, we celebrated accordingly. Chaos. Shaking each other like rag dolls, bodies flying in front and all around me, our Coca-Cola branded souvenir cups smashed under our feet with no consideration for their collectors’ edition resale value, and all I remember getting out of my mouth was ‘He’s our Bradman! I told you he’s our Bradman!’ in reference to an earlier argument of Tim’s place in Australian sporting excellence. I’ll be arguing it again when he inevitably whacks one home in Russia.
This originally appeared in our World Cup special, which is long sold out. You can subscribe to MUNDIAL or buy a single issue here.