Thứ Tư, 25 tháng 6, 2014

Socceroos Failed to Win, but Fans Still Sing a Happy Tune

Australian fans showing their support at the World Cup.

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

It took the Moedt brothers four days and several thousand dollars to travel to Brazil to watch their team lose in the World Cup.

Their trip — Sydney to Darwin, Darwin to Singapore, Singapore to Bangkok, Bangkok to Addis Ababa, Addis Ababa to Lomé, Lomé to São Paulo – involved more stops than most Australian fans who trekked to Brazil, but that didn’t mean they were any more optimistic about their team’s prospects.

“Just scoring would be a great result for the Socceroos,” Adam Moedt, 25 and the eldest of the three brothers, said outside Cuiaba’s Arena Pantanal ahead of Australia’s opening match against Chile. “If we get one past the keeper, that would be good.”

Tim Cahill obliged. Despite losing 3-1 to Chile and 3-2 to the Netherlands, the Australian team outdid expectations. Those two defeats knocked Australia out of the cup, but the young team had overachieved and given their fans fond memories, not least the fightback against Chile and Cahill’s wonder-goal against the Dutch.

“We didn’t come to Brazil to lose. But we just wanted to score a goal and not get hammered. Timmy Cahill is a legend,” Shane Shergill, who had traveled from Sydney, said ahead of Australia’s 3-0 loss to 2010 champion Spain.

Thousands of Australians, despite their low expectations given the quality of opposition in Group B, made the long journey to Brazil. They vastly outnumbered and outsang the Spanish supporters at Monday’s match in Curitiba’s Arena da Baixada.

John Whitington, 33 years old, traveled to Brazil via Santiago in Chile. His journey, though long, wasn’t as arduous as the Moedt brothers’ odyssey as he managed to get an upgrade after his airline overbooked the flight.

Whitington traveled in an organized tour group for Australian fans. “It’s not normally my style, but I just couldn’t be f—– booking hotels and everything,” he said.

His tour was arranged by Australian Sports Tours, a less prominent group than the Fanatics, whose members are easily recognizable thanks to their yellow t-shirts with details of Australia’s three group games written on the back. Sensibly, the shirts didn’t have much space to allow for a World Cup run into the second round.

“I didn’t really want to be with all the young twentysomethings all the time, that’s a different kind of holiday,” Mr. Whitington said. “I’m rooming with a 72-year-old dude who uses a walking stick.”

AST and the Fanatics organize package tours for other sports events too, from cricket series and golf tournaments to the running of the bulls in Pamplona. The Green and Gold Army is another fan group, but it focuses on soccer.

According to online marketplace Viagogo, 2.5 million people in Australia, or 11% of the population, searched for World Cup tickets. There were more than 1,500 people traveling with the Fanatics, including former Socceroos Mark Bosnich and Stan Lazaridis, the organization says.

Tour packages with these groups cost several thousand Australian dollars and don’t include tickets to matches, as the governing body of world soccer – FIFA – hasn’t appointed official tour operators. AST’s packages started from 7,495 Australian dollars ($7,040) for 16 nights, not including international or domestic flights, or match tickets.

It is a big investment to make to see your team lose first hand. Australia is a world leader in sports like cricket, rugby union and rugby league, but as a soccer nation it is far down the pecking order. The team is the worst rated at this World Cup, sitting in 62nd place in the latest FIFA rankings.

It is like the guest at a party who shows up at 7 p.m., has a great time, but is thrown out by 8 p.m. as the sexy folks arrive, asking, “Who was that? Did they even bring any drinks?” Australia, meanwhile, is left outside, peering through the window. No matter how much it dresses up in the colors of Brazil, it won’t be allowed back in.

But gatecrashing for a few stolen moments is better than nothing. In 2006, Australia even managed to get to the second round, before being knocked out by Italy through a last-minute penalty.

“As long as they are competitive, that’s enough,” said Dale Barbuda, who had traveled to the remote Brazilian city of Cuiaba – the venue for Australia’s first match – from Melbourne, 8,500 miles away. “They’re not going to go through.”

Cuiaba, the capital of Mato Grosso state, is in the exact geographic center of South America, 1,250 miles from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. FIFA representative Renato Sá Neto said he drove for 62 hours to get to the city. There is a local soccer team called Mixto Esporte Clube, but this city of 500,000 people is known more as a gateway to the Cerrado grasslands, the Pantanal wetlands and the Amazon.

“I’ve enjoyed it in Cuiaba, it is better than I expected. I thought it would be quite poor compared to the rest of the towns, but it’s been good,” Mr. Barbuda said.

Another traveling fan, who wasn’t with any of the tour groups, said Cuiaba – which hosts four World Cup group games – had a “Wild West” feel and didn’t seem prepared for the influx of visitors.

“We waited ages for our drinks at a bar last night, and then they said they didn’t have any beer. What kind of bar doesn’t have beer? Well, cold beer anyway,” he said. “And our taxi driver didn’t even know how to get to the town’s main strip bar. We spent half an hour looking for it. What kind of taxi driver doesn’t know where the strip bar is?”

After Cuiaba, the Australian fans traveled to Puerto Alegre for the match against the Netherlands and then to Curitiba for their final appearance at the World Cup. Now it is time for the long flight home. For the Moedt brothers, that means stops in two continents before touching down in Australasia again.

Is it all worth it?

“Definitely,” the eldest brother said. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, so it would be crazy not to come here.”

Socceroos Failed to Win, but Fans Still Sing a Happy Tune

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