Faith, energy and focus.
Speaking after the Socceroos’ 1-0 win over Denmark on Thursday morning, Graham Arnold used those words.
World Cups are fought on the ropes; single mistakes can decide games, single plays can make or break campaigns, and if you look down and start swinging, you’re dead.
This morning the Socceroos believed, focused and mustered the energy to step purposefully through the gap to the World Cup round of 16.
Here’s how the internet reacted.
The match kicked off at 2am AEDT, the most brutally inconvenient of hours, but Melbourne’s Federation Square was packed.
Former Socceroos in Qatar were there to support their old teammates.
At home, the faithful, struggling with their circadian rhythms, watched the Socceroos take on the world’s 10th-ranked team.
Denmark immediately took control of the match and Australia moved into a defensive third with barely a touch of the ball for the first 15 minutes.
Was that supposed to be the plan? Defending from the very beginning, to the distant finish? The Socceroos’ defensive unit was solid, no doubt, but in Manchester United’s Christian Eriksen, Denmark had a player who could send a pass like a spike.
It must be demoralizing to attend a soccer match and enjoy so little possession, but the Socceroos resisted the urge to leave their defensive stations and go AWOL in search of some ball at their feet.
And indeed, the Danes were starting to get a little tired, beating themselves up as their attack was repulsed.
It was 0-0 at half-time and the Socceroos were on course to go through with the same scoreline in the game between France’s second team and Tunisia.
Then halfway through the rope.
The second half began as the first half ended, with the Danes continuing to weaken and the Aussies sensing an opportunity to score.
And then we got the news that Tunisia had scored against France and that a draw would not be enough for Australia to progress if that lead was to be maintained.
Australia had gone into the defensive line, but now they had to come out of it and attack.
And Matthew Leckie decided to organize this attack on his own.
Two passes passed through the defenses, and Lekki, a lone soldier up the hill, charged forward into enemy territory, pointing his sword forward.
A slip inside, a slip outside off and then a shot over Kasper Schmeichel; it was a fearsome display of va-va-voom athleticism, solid ball control and precise finishing, a laser beam shot out of the mist, and Australia scored the first goal yet again in this World Cup.
Federation Square was another world.
Fans online were in awe.
But even with the wind at our backs, the rest of the match looked like a daunting ordeal the Socceroos would have to endure.
When the referee decided it would be a fun joke to award a penalty against Australia, a terrible blunder ensued when the Denmark striker was immediately waved off for a foul.
Desperation betraying them, Demark began to fire crosses into the Australian penalty area – as Harry Souttar stood still, they also passed to a team-mate marked by Godzilla.
Defensive-leaning substitutes Keanu Baccus and Bailey Wright were brought in to provide things.
The Socceroos were almost there, just a few steps down the rope, the country and its prime minister fraying nerves.
The final whistle blew – the green and gold foot firmly planted in the next round – and the jubilation that had seeped through 16 years of group stage exits erupted.
And now, with the result shining in front of us, the full glory of this Socceroos performance was revealed; stoic discipline, soul-burning effort, fortitude of spirit and mind.
It wasn’t some tactical triumph here for Graham Arnold and his team, indeed it was a fairly rudimentary game plan that required taking a chance and no small amount of it.
But it also depended entirely on all the things you couldn’t put on a blackboard, faith and spirit and pride, those ephemeral fluctuating forces that had to be conjured and somehow preserved and, above all, believed until they were borne. you walk that tightrope.
A fateful date awaits in the round of 16.