Next stop, Germany!

SocceroosAfter a very tense match, Australia beat Uruguay and qualified for the 1006 World Cup finals. Uruguay won 1-0 in the first match, in Montevideo, which required Australia to win at home by at least two goals to avoid extra time and a penalty shoot-out.

I have to admit that the Australian team surprised me. They were clearly nervous at the start of the match, making several dumb mistakes and allowing lots of free kicks (which is especially dangerous, as a foolish foul is what gave Uruguay its goal in the first leg). But, after 30 minutes, when the coach replaced one of the midfielders with Harry Kewell, Australia started moving forward and scored very quickly, in a beautiful play.

From that moment onwards, the game was Australia’s. The Uruguayans seemed tired, and the Socceroos pressured them during whole of the second half. Uruguay was only a threat on quick returns, and a major threat at that, but they failed to score on all attempts (with a few good saves by Australia’s goalkeeper).

The only problem for the socceroos was actually scoring: they took to long to shoot the ball, and they did it from too far away or with little accuracy. They still scared the Uruguayan goalkeeper quite a few times, anyway. Despite the pressure, regular time ended 1-o and they moved to extra time. The final thirty minutes were a little more balances, with good attack from both sides, still with Australia having a little more edge. A little too much at times, though: they had five or six offsides during extra time, all of them correctly pointed by the referee. Extra time ended with no goals, and it was time for the penalty shoot-out.

The hero was, undoubtedly, the Australian goalkeeper, who saved two shots; one of them right after a missed shot by Australia’s star scorer, Mark Viduka. At the end, 4-2 Australia, and the 83,000 people present in the stadium started a party that would last the whole night.

With Australia qualifying for the World Cup finals and the success of the A-League, it looks like soccer is taking off in the country. No one realistically expects great results in Germany, but you never know: Guus Hiddink, Australia’s coach, is the man who lead South Korea to a finish among the top four team in 2002. To repeat what was in the player’s shirts last night, never say never.

Australia’s Brainiest Kid

For those outside the country: Australia’s Brainiest Kid is a TV show that will allegedly choose the, well, you get it. I’m not sure if other countries have similar shows, but I guess it’s likely.

I watched most of the show this weekend and parts of it on the weekend before; they were two of the “preliminaries”, and only one kid from each goes to the final. There are seven preliminaries and one grand final, with nine children (11 or 12 years old) in each (the final two spots in the final are “wildcards”, apparently selected by the producers from among the kids who failed to qualify). The prize is a $20,000 trust to be released when the kid reaches 18 (plus a laptop for the winner of each preliminary).

I really like the idea of the show. Most of the kids are really smart (not just knowledgeable about some specific subject; they seem to be actually able to think, rather than just collect random facts) and likeable, although you also get one or two arrogant brats (and boy, do those look arrogant) in each lot (they didn’t win either of the shows I watched). And more than a few of them are really disappointed, or even surprised, when they don’t win; some are clearly holding back tears while Sandra Sully congratulates them on getting that far.

I’m guessing that many of those — not all of them — are somewhat geeky (or even nerdy) and don’t hang out with many similarly smart kids, so that show may be their first contact with children that are as smart as or smarter than themselves. And that can be a shock, especially for a 12-year-old, and especially if they find this out by failing at an intellectual challenge, possibly for the first time in their lives. Those are kids that breeze through school without really studying all that much; not being able to win can come as a surprise. I know this from my experience going into college: what do you mean, just going to lectures and browsing the textbook is not enough to get an A anymore? (well, at least not in some Math subjects) That was an awakening. And I was 18; at 12, it’s almost cruel (but, then again, maybe the sooner the better…).

That said, the producers need to work a little more on the questions. In the first round last Sunday, one of them asked who was the winner of this year’s Big Brother. Come on, I would give points to kids who didn’t know that! (they all did, alas) Big Brother, as Australia’s Brainiest Kid, is on Channel Ten.

One other question gave away one of the major plot points of the latest Harry Potter book (and all of the kids knew the answer to that as well); ok, it is a well-known book among kids by now, but I think it’s still a little too recent for them to give part of the ending away on national TV.

Now it’s Uruguay

After the final round of the South American World Cup qualifiers, it’s defined: Australia will once more play Uruguay for a spot in the Cup finals. Uruguay beat the Socceroos in 2001 (Australia won 1-0 in Melbourne and lost the return match 3-0), and they are confident of repeating the result; Australia, after beating Jamaica 5-0 in a friendly match last week, is “cautiously confident” that it can do better this time.

The matches are set for 12 November in Montevideo and 16 November in Sydney’s Telstra Stadium; Football Federation Australia intends to arrive in Uruguay as late as possible for the first leg (and leave just as quickly) to try to avoid incidents like the ones that happened in 2001, when Uruguaian fans attacked the Australian players outside the stadium before the match.

This is the last time Australia will have to face a South American opponent to get to the World Cup finals: from next year, Australia will join the Asian football federation and will play the qualifiers for that region, competing for one of four spots (and with a chance of facing off a North American team for a fifth spot). While the Asian teams are certainly tougher opponents than most in the Oceania group, Australia probably has a better chance of scoring a spot in the finals through that route than by playing South American teams…

Soccer news

First things first: I will refer to this sport as “soccer” to prevent any confusion with the peculiar brand of football (a.k.a “footy”) played in Australia.

As most people with any interest in the sport already know, Australia ended its participation in the Confederations Cup with three losses, having conceded a total of 10 goals (and scoring 5). Of course, in a group including Argentina and Germany, no one seriously expected the Socceroos to advance to the next round; and, in any case, they did quite well against both Germany and Argentina (especially Germany). However, the loss against Tunisia was unexpected to me; I’m less than optimistic about Australia’s chances of qualifying to the 2006 World Cup.

Of course, the other green-and-gold team (Brazil) didn’t do so well either: they lost to Mexico (hardly the end of the world, but unexpected) and tied Japan (a little more worrying), and will now face Germany in the semifinal.

In somewhat better news, the qualifying tournament for the Club World Championship (to be played in Tokyo next December) was won by Sydney FC, as predicted, and they will represent Oceania against the champions coming from the other five continents. I wouldn’t serioulsy expect Sydney to win the tournament, but it would be great if they would at least advance to the second round, where they would play against the champion of either Europe (Liverpool) or South America (still not decided).

There is talk of Australia leaving Oceania for Asia when trying to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. I’m not sure if that would also change how clubs would qualify for future Club World Championships, but I think it would be a very good move for the Socceroos: Asia qualifies for teams for the World Cup (while Oceania may not qualify any teams), and playing better teams (as compared to most of the Oceania teams) will help the Australian team to improve.

Autumn colours

Fitzroy GardensWinter has officially arrived already (on 01/06), but the autumn colours are just now reaching their peak. The city looks very beautiful, the parks are decorated in several shades of yellow, orange and red and there are leaves all around. It’s times like these that make me happy I don’t have a backyard to clean…

The photo, taken last Saturday, shows the Fitzroy Gardens, one of the parks around the Melbourne CBD and one of the most popular places for wedding photos all year round (click on the photo for a larger version). The park was covered in leaves, lots of kids were playing around in them (sort of doing “snowball fights” with the leaves) and many tourists were taking pictures.

Right hand, meet left hand

Best possible example of “right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing”:

Autistic boy featured in Govt calendar facing deportation

A 12-year-old boy chosen by the Federal Government to appear in a calendar marking the International Day of People with Disabilities is apparently facing deportation from Australia because he is disabled.


It would be ironic if it weren’t sad…

A Walk in the Park

Two weeks ago, we went out on a cold, sunny Saturday afternoon to take a walk in the Fitzroy Gardens, a park located at the “border” of the CBD, close to the Parliament. It’s a very nice place, with lots of grassy open spaces and a few areas with dense vegetation. There is a beautiful flower conservatory there, and also a decorative fountain with statues of marine animals (called the “Dolphin’s Fountain”), but it’s now dry because of the water usage restrictions.

Here are some pictures:
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