Australian party poopers stroll through Asia
If a week is long enough to change the course of a football career, or a club's season, then it should come as no surprise that a World Cup cycle is long enough to witness a seismic shift in the expectations of a newly-born football nation.
But still, it should be noted that those waiting for car-horn tooting, screaming fans in sweaty gold shirts to fill the streets until the wee hours to celebrate news of Australia's berth in South Africa 2010 have been left a little wanting.
Australians woke on Sunday morning to news that its national team was going to the World Cup finals for a second successive occasion. A feat worthy of celebration in itself, even before you consider the state of the game four years ago before a penalty shoot-out win over Uruguay gave the kiss of life to game with an image problem and identity crisis.
The national team's journey to Germany via a nail-biting South American play-off served to unify a sporting public like no other event had done on behalf of any other sport in Australian history. Before that trip through the South East of Germany it would have been simply unimaginable that an Australian would get up in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter to watch a game that could quite possibly result in an Australian sporting nightmare; a game with no goals and no winner.
As it turns out, that's exactly the sort of game that delivered the Socceroos into the World Cup finals for a third time. Tim Cahill threatened with a bicycle kick, Harry Kewell with a scorching blast from just inside the area, but in the end it was another ninety plus minutes of hard-nosed pragmatic football that took the Aussies through. Few highlights that would have people crowding around their televisions waiting for a replay, but one critical ingredient. A precious 14th point and qualification for the biggest show on Earth. Australia 0 - 0 Qatar.
The Socceroos' fortunes are still driven by much the same playing stocks as they were in 2006 and still have a Dutchman in charge, but the new manager is a very different man to the legend that is Guus Hiddink. While "Aussie Guus" has a fondness for cigar smoke and African beats, Pim Verbeek would never dream of such a Wembley-style jig.
Indeed, Australia's new Dutch master may lack the CV of Hiddink, his aura or star power, but with the current Russian manager's love of short-term employment and Australia's new path to the World Cup via Asia, a new man was required to fill a very different job.
Thankfully, there would be no heart-stopping made-for-TV finale against a fifth-placed South American side this time. No street parties or movie stars in the dressing rooms after a match that saw Australia claim the 32nd spot in Germany. The Socceroos defused the drama by methodically marching into a new neighborhood (the Asian Football Confederation) and taking one of its most prized possessions without conceding a goal in more than 600 minutes of football.
Football Federation Australia quickly realised that only another World Cup could satisfy a country's whetted appetite for the world game played on the World stage. Its hardest and most important work was done in gaining a place in the Asian confederation to begin with. After 14 games there is no one image that will survive as John Aloisi's penalty will in the minds of the public, but the game itself got what was absolutely necessary to remain in the Australian consciousness, a spot in South Africa.
Maybe last time the party thrown to honour the occasion was in fact bigger, louder and longer lasting, but surprise parties only work once. Thirty-two years was too long to wait but with a ticket punched for the Rainbow nation, another 12 months to build the excitement for our next big gathering won't hurt a bit.