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Saturday, June 24, 2006

World Cup Open thread: rise of the Socceroos

Kewell and Tim Cahill are two of Australia's
brightest stars

Saturday, June 24, 2006
Jun 24 11:00 ET Germany v Sweden
Match 49
Jun 24 15:00 ET Argentina v Mexico
Match 50

Football on top Down Under

By Julian Shea

Australia fans celebrate

The issue of republicanism may have divided Australia in recent years, but on Thursday night the country hailed a new king.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard dubbed Harry Kewell "King Harry" after his equalising goal in their 2-2 draw with Croatia, and few people in Australia would have disagreed.

The sight of Howard watching football in the early hours of the morning and jumping out of his chair with excitement summed up how Australia has fallen in love with football. And things may never be the same again.

For years, football was the poor relation in the sports-mad country.

Despite a steady stream of talented individuals, fate seemed to conspire against the Socceroos, with just one appearance at the World Cup finals - in 1974 in West Germany - to show for years of effort.

Former Liverpool striker Craig Johnston was one of those voices in the footballing wilderness, so he is relishing seeing football finally take centre stage.

"The World Cup has completely galvanised Australian society," he told BBC Sport.

"There was always a great prejudice against soccer when I grew up.

"You were made to feel you were playing an immigrant game, but now all those years of hurt have been swept away because the other sports can't match the global nature of football.

"We've waited 32 years to qualify. It's been a long wait by what we call the Soccer Tragics - of which I'm one."

In the 1980s Johnston played in England for Middlesbrough and Liverpool and remains the only Australian to have scored in an FA Cup final, as Liverpool beat Everton 3-1 in 1986.

He was a standard bearer for Australian football in an era when Australian Rules Football, the two rugby codes and cricket were dominant back home.

But Johnston says Australia's success at the World Cup has changed all that - and the other sports are worried.

"The other codes have always been terrified of Australia having a good World Cup," he said.

"That would mean the sport having Australian heroes for kids to look up to."

posted by Steve @ 2:02:00 AM

2:02:00 AM

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