There’s simply no escaping the immense challenge that will confront the Caltex Socceroos in their incredibly-anticipated FIFA World Cup™ opener tonight (Saturday 8pm AEST, live on SBS and Optus Sport).
Facing a France side blessed with Mbappe and Dembele and Griezmann and Pogba and all the players you would happily wake early to watch under different circumstances is akin to asking Bert van Marwijk’s men to head for the summit before they’ve even arrived at base camp.
Really, though, would you have wanted it any other way?
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Australian football fans have never had it easy and, besides, breezing through a dishevelled opponent in the manner of the host nation in the tournament opener would betray what, for those of us fortunate enough to be on the ground, seems to be the essence of the Russia 2018 experience.
Nothing, at least on the evidence of an exhausting first day in the fascinating city of Kazan, will be especially straightforward in this complex country.
Endurance is tested by a 2am arrival time and the need to be fresh for Group B’s heavyweight bout between eternal antagonist Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo’s ego a good 19 hours later.
Much of any possible recuperation time will be devoted to fiddling with Google Translate in an attempt to be more than just a polite smile to the patient locals who are helping lead you in the right direction.
And, naturally, an unforeseen portion will be lost to the utterly essential, momentarily baffling and eventually uplifting quest to prove that, yes, your accommodation does actually exist and, no, it isn’t a restaurant. Well, at least part of it isn’t. The important part, with beds and a shower best suited to exhibitionists.
Character-building trials, all of them, and well worth it in the end as a swelling sea of green and gold shirts sweeping throughout the key destinations – pubs screening the football – offers a comforting sight.
The Australian diaspora has well and truly converged on Kazan now, surely outnumbering the irritatingly beautiful blue shirts that seemed so common on the journey across European borders.
Our players’ wish to see a stadium awash with the colours intrinsically tied to the national team is certain to be granted come kick-off.
At this stage, there doesn’t seem to be concern among Caltex Socceroos fans about the size of Saturday’s task, but rather an appreciation of where we all are, why, and how great it could turn out.
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